Nov 17, 2021 - World

Scoop: Israel, Jordan and UAE to sign deal for huge solar farm

Illustration of a large hand placing a solar panel into desert sand

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Israel, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates are set to sign a deal on Monday, pushed along by U.S. climate envoy John Kerry, to build a massive solar farm in the Jordanian desert, five Israeli officials tell Axios.

Why it matters: This is the biggest regional cooperation project ever undertaken between Israel and its neighbors. The plan calls for the UAE-funded solar farm to provide energy mainly to Israel, which will build a desalination plant on its Mediterranean coast to provide water to Jordan.

  • The deal was made possible by the Abraham Accords, and was helped across the finish line by several phone calls from Kerry to Jordan's King Abdullah II and Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid.
  • It is expected to be signed on Monday in Dubai by senior officials from Israel, Jordan and the UAE, with Kerry also expected to attend.
  • The deal will only increase the strategic importance of the relationship between Israel and Jordan, which has improved significantly since Naftali Bennett replaced Benjamin Netanyahu as Israel's prime minister. It should also ease Jordan's water crisis.

Behind the scenes: The agreement is a result of secret talks between the three governments, which grew increasingly serious in September and matured into a draft agreement at the end of October.

  • The deal was initially set to be signed two weeks ago during the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow.
  • King Abdullah was prepared to move ahead, but Bennett asked to postpone the signing out of a concern that it would generate domestic political criticism days before a critical vote on Israel's budget, Israeli officials say.
  • The final details were hammered out on Tuesday, with Kerry playing a role in the talks. A spokesman for Kerry did not respond to a request for comment.

The backstory: The vision behind the project originally came from EcoPeace Middle East, a regional environmental NGO.

  • The logic was that Israel needs renewable energy but lacks the land for massive solar farms, which Jordan has.
  • Jordan, meanwhile, needs water but can only build desalination plants in the remote southern part of the country, while Israel's coastline is closer to Jordan's big population centers.

Details: The solar farm will be built by Masdar, a UAE government-owned alternative energy company.

  • The plans call for the solar farm to be operational by 2026 and produce 2% of Israel's energy by 2030, with Israel paying $180 million per year to be divided between the Jordanian government and the Emirati company.
  • The agreement links the electricity deal to further water purchases from Jordan. It states that Jordan plans to double the amount of water it purchases from Israel, either from a new desalination plant or existing facilities.

What’s next: The agreement is expected be signed in Dubai on Monday by the Israeli Energy Minister Karine Elharrar, Jordanian Water Minister Raed Abu Al-Saud and UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed, with Kerry in attendance.

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