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. 



Slate Plus Early Read: The Self-Made Man

The story of America’s most pliable, pernicious, irrepressible myth.

Rehtaeh Parsons Was the Most Famous Victim in Canada. Now, Journalists Can’t Even Say Her Name.

Mitt Romney May Be Weighing a 2016 Run. That Would Be a Big Mistake.

Amazing Photos From Hong Kong’s Umbrella Revolution

Transparent Is the Fall’s Only Great New Show

The XX Factor

Rehtaeh Parsons Was the Most Famous Victim in Canada

Now, journalists can't even say her name.


Lena Dunham, the Book

More shtick than honesty in Not That Kind of Girl.

What a Juicy New Book About Diane Sawyer and Katie Couric Fails to Tell Us About the TV News Business

Does Your Child Have Sluggish Cognitive Tempo? Or Is That Just a Disorder Made Up to Scare You?

  News & Politics
Sept. 29 2014 11:45 PM The Self-Made Man The story of America’s most pliable, pernicious, irrepressible myth.
Sept. 29 2014 7:01 PM We May Never Know If Larry Ellison Flew a Fighter Jet Under the Golden Gate Bridge
Dear Prudence
Sept. 29 2014 3:10 PM The Lonely Teetotaler Prudie counsels a letter writer who doesn’t drink alcohol—and is constantly harassed by others for it.
  Double X
Sept. 29 2014 11:43 PM Lena Dunham, the Book More shtick than honesty in Not That Kind of Girl.
  Slate Plus
Slate Fare
Sept. 29 2014 8:45 AM Slate Isn’t Too Liberal, but … What readers said about the magazine’s bias and balance.
Brow Beat
Sept. 29 2014 9:06 PM Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice Looks Like a Comic Masterpiece
Future Tense
Sept. 29 2014 11:56 PM Innovation Starvation, the Next Generation Humankind has lots of great ideas for the future. We need people to carry them out.
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 29 2014 11:32 PM The Daydream Disorder Is sluggish cognitive tempo a disease or disease mongering?
Sports Nut
Sept. 28 2014 8:30 PM NFL Players Die Young. Or Maybe They Live Long Lives. Why it’s so hard to pin down the effects of football on players’ lives.