Jordanian Ambassador Accuses Israel of Diverting Water from His Nation

Israel is diverting water from Jordan and depriving its population of an adequate water supply, Jordan’s ambassador to the United States charged Monday.

In a public address on Capitol Hill, Ambassador Hussein Hammami criticized Israel for using Jordan River water to replenish Lake Tiberias.

The lake, also known as the Kinneret and the Sea of Galilee, serves as the source for Israel’s National Water Carrier, an aqueduct that runs to Tel Aviv.

Israel has opted to “refill Lake Tiberias and its own water needs with water taken from the Jordan River, which is Jordan’s major source of water,” Hammami charged.

“The result of this is that Jordan is now incapable of meeting its immediate water needs from the Yarmuk,” a river that flows into the Jordan, he said.

An Israeli Embassy official here maintained that Israel is entitled to that water under an agreement it signed with Jordan, through the United States, in the 1950s.

“All of the Jordan River is to be used by us,” he said.

Hammami spoke for 75 minutes to Churches for Middle East Peace, which represents 14 mainline church groups, in a Senate room secured by Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-Minn.).

The envoy called water one of the three biggest issues facing the Middle East, along with the Arab-Israeli conflict and absence of democratic governments.

“There could be a major conflict in the region in the next decade, even earlier, if the problem of water is not properly addressed and resolved,” he said.

ISRAEL WANTS A FULL AGREEMENT

Hammami complained that Israel is blocking the World Bank from financing a dam on the Yarmuk that Jordan wants to build jointly with Syria.

“By international law, Israel has a right to a certain ratio of that water,” the envoy said. But “in the absence of that dam, Israel gets much more than its fair share of the water.”

But the Israeli Embassy official maintained that the Jordanians cannot “fully utilize the water of the Yarmuk.”

Jerusalem is opposed to “anything that may affect Israel’s water supply,” unless it is part of “a full-fledged agreement” on the water situation, the official said.

Unless Jordan and Israel are “willing to sit together with the Syrians in an organized fashion and to sign agreements on the use of water, it’s difficult for us” to agree to a project in which “we may find ourselves at their mercy,” he said.

Hammami said that Israel has “compounded the problem” for Jordan by diverting groundwater from the West Bank to Israel proper.

But the Israeli official said that water “naturally flows” toward the Mediterranean Sea.

In the West Bank, Palestinians irrigated 27 percent of the land in 1967. Today they irrigate just 4 percent, Hammami said.

But the Israeli official disputed those figures. “Obviously today the Palestinians irrigate much more than they did in 67, and their agricultural production per unit area has gone up between five and 10 times,” he said.

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