By Dan Williams
JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel will this year double its supply of water to Jordan and encourage Amman to export more to the Palestinians, Israeli officials said on Thursday after a source told Reuters the new Israeli prime minister had secretly met the Jordanian king.
Jordan is a key security partner for Israel but relations have suffered in recent years over Israeli-Palestinian tensions.
Yair Lapid, foreign minister in a cross-partisan coalition that ousted long-serving conservative Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government a month ago, held a first meeting with Jordanian counterpart Ayman Safadi on Thursday.
Separately, a source who declined to be identified by name or nationality said Netanyahu’s successor, Naftali Bennett, made an unannounced Amman visit last week to see King Abdullah.
Israeli and Jordanian spokespeople had no immediate comment on what the source described as June 29 talks at Abdullah’s palace, meant to improve ties strained during Netanyahu’s term.
A July 1 palace statement said Abdullah had embarked on a three-week visit to the United States that would include President Joe Biden’s first meeting with an Arab leader at the White House since taking office.
Biden will host Abdullah there on July 19, the White House said on Wednesday, adding that those talks would be “an opportunity to … showcase Jordan’s leadership role in promoting peace and stability in the region”.
Lapid said Israel would sell its neighbour 50 million cubic metres of water this year.
An Israeli official said that would effectively double the supply for the year – from May 2021 to May 2022 – as around 50 million cubic metres was already being sold or given to Jordan. A Jordanian official said Israel gives the kingdom 30 million cubic metres annually under their 1994 peace treaty.
Lapid said the countries also agreed to explore increasing Jordan’s exports to the West Bank to $700 million a year, from $160 million now.
“The Kingdom of Jordan is an important neighbour and partner,” Lapid said in a statement. “We will broaden economic cooperation for the good of the two countries.”
The United States welcomed the agreements. “It is these kinds of tangible steps that increase prosperity for all and advance regional stability,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price said in a statement.
Abdullah strongly opposed former U.S. President Donald Trump’s Middle East peace plan, which he saw as a national security threat that would also undermine his Hashemite family’s custodianship of holy sites in Jerusalem.
Officials say the shift in U.S. policy under Biden towards a more traditional commitment to a two-state solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict has relieved pressure on Jordan, where a majority of the population of 10 million are Palestinians.
(Writing by Dan Williams and Suleiman al-Khalidi; Editing by Giles Elgood)