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

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. 


Frame Game

Hard Knocks

I was hit by a teacher in an East Texas public school. It taught me nothing.

There Are New Abuse Allegations Against Adrian Peterson

After This Merger, One Company Could Control One-Third of the Planet's Beer Sales

John Oliver Pleads for Scotland to Stay With the U.K.

If You’re Outraged by the NFL, Follow This Satirical Blowhard on Twitter


Don’t Expect Adrian Peterson to Go to Prison

In much of America, beating your kids is perfectly legal. 

The Juice

Ford’s Big Gamble

It’s completely transforming America’s best-selling vehicle.

I Tried to Write an Honest Profile of One of Bollywood’s Biggest Stars. It Didn’t Go Well.

Here’s Why College Women Don’t Take Rape Allegations to the Police

The XX Factor
Sept. 15 2014 1:51 PM Here’s Why College Women Don’t Take Rape Allegations to the Police
  News & Politics
Sept. 15 2014 8:56 PM The Benghazi Whistleblower Who Might Have Revealed a Massive Scandal on his Poetry Blog
Sept. 15 2014 7:27 PM Could IUDs Be the Next Great Weapon in the Battle Against Poverty?
Sept. 15 2014 4:38 PM What Is Straight Ice Cream?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 15 2014 3:31 PM My Year As an Abortion Doula
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Sept. 15 2014 11:38 AM The Slate Doctor Who Podcast: Episode 4  A spoiler-filled discussion of "Listen."
Brow Beat
Sept. 15 2014 8:58 PM Lorde Does an Excellent Cover of Kanye West’s “Flashing Lights”
Future Tense
Sept. 15 2014 4:49 PM Cheetah Robot Is Now Wireless and Gallivanting on MIT’s Campus
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 15 2014 11:00 AM The Comet and the Cosmic Beehive
Sports Nut
Sept. 15 2014 9:05 PM Giving Up on Goodell How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.