Jordan continues to press for increased access to Israeli water despite ongoing backlash

On November 16, Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi – whose anti-Israel rhetoric since October 7 has been strident – took to Al Jazeera to say the planned signing a month later of a three-way Jordan-Israel-UAE water-for-energy deal would not take place.

“We will not sign this agreement any longer. Can you imagine a Jordanian minister sitting next to an Israeli minister to sign a water and electricity agreement, all while Israel continues to kill children in Gaza?” the top Jordanian diplomat said.

Under the deal, Jordan was to supply Israel with solar energy from a UAE-funded plant in exchange for desalinated water from Israel.

“Israel’s aggression and crimes [in Gaza] can no longer be justified as self-defense. It has been killing innocent civilians and attacking hospitals,” he continued. “If any other state had committed a fraction of what Israel is doing now, we would have seen sanctions imposed on it from every corner of the globe.”

Jordan, since October 7, has recalled its ambassador and asked the Israeli envoy in Amman to leave the country.Fast forward some three and a half months, and Jordan, according to a report on Sunday on Kan 11, asked Israel to renew a deal whereby Israel sells the water-deficient Hashemite Kingdom an additional 50 million cubic meters of water over and beyond the 50m. cm. that it is obligated to provide under the 1994 peace treaty.

Jordanians carry flags and placards as they demonstrate against the declaration of intent for water-for-energy deal signed by Israel, Jordan and the UAE, in Amman, Jordan. (credit: MUATH FREIJ/REUTERS)
In 2021, then prime minister Naftali Bennett, in an attempt to improve ties with the Hashemite Kingdom, agreed to double the amount of water Israel provided under the treaty. At the time, then infrastructure, energy, and water minister Karine Elharrar said the new agreement was proof that “we want good neighborly relations.”

It is this agreement that is expiring on May 1, and which Jordan wants to renew. In other words, now Safadi’s government has fewer qualms about sitting next to an Israeli minister and signing a deal.

According to the Kan report, Israel is reviewing the request. Reportedly, it has let it be known that it has a few conditions. First and foremost, softening the Erdogan-like anti-Israel rhetoric coming from top Jordanian officials. Secondly, restoring diplomatic relations – meaning an exchange of ambassadors – to where they were before October 7.

It’s about time.

“Good neighborly relations” is a two-way street, and the anti-Israel rhetoric and incitement coming from Jordan since October 7 is not exactly the way to foster those positive bilateral ties.

It is not only the Jordanian labor unions, parliamentarians, or Safadi who are piling on.  A couple of weeks after October 7, when the images from that savage day were still fresh, Jordan’s Queen Rania gave an unforgettable interview to CNN when she questioned the veracity of reports about the brutality of the attacks.


And on a trip to Washington last month, King Abdullah lamented “seven decades of occupation, death, and destruction,” borrowing language used by those who see Israel’s very existence as an “occupation,” not just settlement beyond the Green Line after the 1967 Six-Day War.

Let there be no mistake, the peace agreement with Jordan is of primary strategic interest to Israel. A stable Hashemite Kingdom keeps a hostile power from setting up camp directly to Israel’s east, along its longest border. Imagine, for a second, Iranian-backed militias along the other side of the Jordan River instead of Jordanian troops.

The peace agreement is also of primary strategic importance to Jordan, since the relationship with Israel – and the intelligence and security cooperation that comes with it – serve as protection for the Hashemite Kingdom against hostile powers taking it over from east or north. Furthermore, it is a key factor in massive US aid that the country receives.

Both countries need each other. But this is something that Jordanian officials seem to forget in their often vitriolic condemnations of Israel at home and around the world.

Jordan’s request now to renew the water deal is a good time for Jerusalem to remind the Jordanians that Israel also has expectations.

Or, as Jonathan Schanzer of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies put it succinctly in a tweet on Monday, “Jordan is asking for more water after trashing the Israelis for nearly 5 months, and downplaying 10/7. This comes after years of vitriol to placate the majority Palestinian population. Israel needs to help. Jordan’s stability is crucial. But a different contract is needed.”

Part of this new contract should be the expectation that Jordan, as the custodian of al-Aqsa Mosque, use its influence there to try to tamp down tensions surrounding the mosque and the Temple Mount on Ramadan.

The cabinet met on Tuesday to discuss the arrangements that will be in place on the Temple Mount on Ramadan, with Israel’s security chiefs reportedly of one mind that widespread restrictions on Israeli Arabs – which National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir had favored – could lead to violence. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that Israel has always and will continue to allow freedom of worship.

Taking steps toward de-escalation

Israel, as it is taking steps to tamp down possible tensions surrounding al-Aqsa, should also signal Jordan as it is reviewing its water request that it also has a role to play in alleviating the tensions. All too often, during Ramadan, Jordanian rhetoric has gone in the opposite direction.

Two years ago, for instance, Jordan’s Prime Minister Bisher Al-Khasawneh, in an outrageous speech in the Jordanian parliament following clashes on the Temple Mount during Ramadan, said, “I praise every Palestinian and Jordanian Islamic Waqf [religious trust] worker who stands tall like a turret and those who throw rocks at the pro-Zionists who are defiling Al-Aqsa Mosque while under the security of the Israeli occupation government.”

The pro-Zionists he referred to were Jews praying at the Western Wall.

Abdullah, as well, did little to ease tensions, saying Israel’s “unilateral” moves against Muslim worshipers undermined the prospect of peace, and he blamed Israel’s “provocative acts” at the compound for the unrest.

Israel, as it considers whether to renew the water deal, has some leverage, and should impress upon the Jordanians that – as it considers sending more water from the Kinneret to faucets in Amman – it expects its peace partner to the east to work this year to douse flames on the Temple Mount and not to fan them by playing into the hands of Hamas and others who will try to ignite a conflagration by saying, as they do every year, “Al-Aqsa is in danger.”