Israel. Another week, another delegation of foreign politicians. This time it’s the French President Nicolas Sarkozy gracing our shores and as I write this he is dining with his Israeli counterpart, Shimon Peres, at his official residence ten minutes from my flat. Apart from the usual topics that concern foreign dignitaries in the Holy Land (stalled peace talks with the Palestinians and Syria, what do about Iranian nukes, so on and so on), one issue that the two premiers are equally enthusiastic about is the euphemistically-titled “Peace Canal” or “Peace Valley”, a huge man-made channel which would potentially connect the Red and Dead Seas.
The announcement of the initiative at the Facing Tomorrow conference last month, with an audience of another President (Mr George W.), was greeted with rapturous applause in Jerusalem. The project requires massive investment – 5 billion dollars – to pump a projected two billion cubic meters of water each year from the Gulf of Eilat north to the ailing Dead Sea via the Kingdom of Jordan. Media headlines have been full of the tired rhetoric of “making the desert bloom” by building a complex of hotels, lakes and even safari parks in the largely undeveloped and arid Arava Valley.
Needless to say, rushing into a huge engineering feat of this kind will have enormous ecological consequences – especially before a World Bank feasibility study has even been completed – prompting condemnations from environmentalists led by Friends of the Earth Middle East. “French President Sarkozi appears not to realize that he has stepped into a mine field of controversy. The project ideas of building an open canal across the desert, Dubai style hotels, Los Vegas casinos and African safaris are unprecedented in size not only for the Middle East but globally. They threaten to completely alter the World Heritage values of the Arava Valley and the Dead Sea itself,” said Munqeth Mehyar, Jordanian Director of FoE Middle East. Their Israeli director, Gidon Bromberg, was equally damning of the project: “Since time immemorial it was the Jordan River that replenished the Dead Sea. In just 50 years we have managed to turn the holy Jordan into a sewage canal and dry up a third of the Dead Sea.”
It wasn’t long ago that Green Prophet reported on FoE Middle East’s own “Peace Park” at the opposite end of the Jordan Valley, south of the Sea of Galilee. Unlike the touted “Peace Canal” which aims at a technical fix for a complex ecological quandary, the ecological Peace Park hopes to rehabilitate the River Jordan and the Dead Sea by tackling its root causes – unsustainable water management – rather than throwing cash at the problem. According to Bromberg: “It appears that the French Government led by French business interests is using the demise of the Dead Sea as the means to try to greenwash the public and cover up their true intentions of reaping the profits from the tens of billions of dollars that the project would need to attract.”