Don’t Look Now, but Some Peace Is Being Made in the Middle East

The World
How It Works
Dec. 10 2013 11:08 AM

Don’t Look Now, but Some Peace Is Being Made in the Middle East

The Dead Sea: Fill 'er up.

Photo by MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP/Getty Images

Cynicism is generally a pretty safe default posture to adopt when it comes to Middle Eastern diplomacy, but today’s headlines bring news of some significant progress being made on small but difficult international issues in the region.

Joshua Keating Joshua Keating

Joshua Keating is a staff writer at Slate focusing on international affairs and writes the World blog. 

Isabel Kershner of the New York Times reports that “In a rare display of regional cooperation, representatives of Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority signed an agreement on Monday to build a Red Sea-Dead Sea water project that is meant to benefit all three parties.”


The deal involves the construction of a desalination plant in Southern Jordan that converts Red Sea water to fresh water to be shared between Jordan and Southern Israel. Both sides will get 8 billion to 13 billion gallons a year.

Israel also agreed to sell more water to the Palestinian Authority at preferential prices. The “reject” water left behind in the desalination process would be pumped into the rapidly disappearing Dead Sea.

Meanwhile, Awad Mustafa of Defense News reports that “Iran and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are close to reaching a deal on returning three Iranian-occupied islands in the Arabian Gulf to the UAE.” (That’s the body of water generally known outside the Arab world as the Persian Gulf.)

The dispute over Abu Musa island, home to about 2,000 people, and two uninhabited islands nearby, dates back to 1971 when the shah of Iran sent troops to occupy them over the objections of the sheikhdom of Sharjah—now part of the UAE. The UAE maintains sovereignty, but Iran has a military base on the island and has been gradually increasing its presence. Former President Mahmoud Ammadinejad made a controversial visit to the island last year claiming to possess documents proving that “the Persian Gulf is Persian.” The provocative move led the UAE to pull its ambassador from Tehran.

As you might suspect, this isn’t a purely historical spat. The islands are located near the Mubarek oil field as well as being right in the middle of the Strait of Hormuz—a critically important shipping lane for the world’s energy supply. It hasn’t gotten as much attention as certain other island disputes happening in the world today, but its location alone makes it worth keeping an eye on.

Following recent visits by UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al Nahyan to Tehran and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif to Abu Dhabi, the two sides are now apparently on the verge of a “workable agreement for the transfer of the islands to the UAE while Iran retains the seabed rights.”

Unfortunately the outlook for breakthroughs at either next month’s Syria talks in Geneva or the Israeli-Palestinian talks being pushed by Secretary of State John Kerry doesn’t appear quite as positive. But it’s sometimes worth keeping in mind that stalemate on high-level issues can distract from progress being made on small but very real issues. 



Forget Oculus Rift

This $25 cardboard box turns your phone into an incredibly fun virtual reality experience.

The Congressional Republican Digging Through Scientists’ Grant Proposals

Renée Zellweger’s New Face Is Too Real

Sleater-Kinney Was Once America’s Best Rock Band

Can it be again?

Whole Foods Is Desperate for Customers to Feel Warm and Fuzzy Again

The XX Factor

I’m 25. I Have $250.03.

My doctors want me to freeze my eggs.

The XX Factor
Oct. 20 2014 6:17 PM I’m 25. I Have $250.03. My doctors want me to freeze my eggs.

Smash and Grab

Will competitive Senate contests in Kansas and South Dakota lead to more late-breaking races in future elections?

George Tiller’s Murderer Threatens Another Abortion Provider, Claims Free Speech

These Companies in Japan Are More Than 1,000 Years Old

  News & Politics
The World
Oct. 21 2014 3:13 PM Why Countries Make Human Rights Pledges They Have No Intention of Honoring
Oct. 21 2014 1:12 PM The Global Millionaires Club Is Booming and Losing Its Exclusivity
The Vault
Oct. 21 2014 2:23 PM A Data-Packed Map of American Immigration in 1903
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 21 2014 3:03 PM Renée Zellweger’s New Face Is Too Real
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 21 2014 1:02 PM Where Are Slate Plus Members From? This Weird Cartogram Explains. A weird-looking cartogram of Slate Plus memberships by state.
Brow Beat
Oct. 21 2014 1:47 PM The Best Way to Fry an Egg
Oct. 21 2014 10:43 AM Social Networking Didn’t Start at Harvard It really began at a girls’ reform school.
  Health & Science
Climate Desk
Oct. 21 2014 11:53 AM Taking Research for Granted Texas Republican Lamar Smith continues his crusade against independence in science.
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.