The Red Sea-Dead Sea Water Deal: A Game Changer for Jewish-Muslim Relations

Government leadership on Red Sea-Dead Sea deal creates a potential "safe" platform for American Jews and American Muslims to cooperate more broadly on Middle Eastern development projects.

The widely reported water sharing agreement this week between Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority (PA) to link the Red Sea and the Dead Sea has implications over and above the potential increase to agricultural and drinking water resources -- if we don't blow it.

The American Jewish community has a strong tradition of financing and developing water and infrastructure projects in Israel. For example organizations such as Jewish National Fund have constructed over 250 reservoirs in Israel over the past three decades. This tradition has helped to strengthen Israel, but equally importantly, it has strengthened the American Jewish community through the bond these projects forge between American Jews and Israelis.

This week's agreement affords an opportunity for American Jewish organizations to expand their scope by partnering with American Muslims to jointly fund cooperative projects on the ground in the Middle East.

Jointly funded major projects by American Jews and Muslims in the Middle East are rare because (1) there can be skepticism or mistrust between American Jewish and American Muslim organizations, and (2) when trust and good faith exist, there is skepticism about whether that trust and belief is also held on the ground by the respective governments in the Middle East to bring these projects to realization.

For this reason, American Jewish and Muslim relations are often limited in their scope to "advocacy," which is less impactful on the ground in the Middle East, harder to quantify and as a consequence only a small proportion of American Jews and Muslims buy in.

However, with the agreement this week, representatives of the governments of Israel, Jordan and the PA have sent a clear signal of good faith that they want to make this project happen. If this signal is grasped with both hands by both the American Jewish and American Muslim communities, it could be a safe platform to work together that has not existed in recent memory.

The World Bank has conceptualized a $10 billion program but has not made it clear how this will be funded, so there is room for both resources and expertise on the many financial, environmental and execution challenges related to the project.

Cooperating and financing tangible projects and successfully completing them will strengthen the relationship between American Muslims and American Jews because they will have worked together on these projects, meaning greater overall cooperation on common goals. And the successful completion of these projects will have a clear positive impact on the ground, which will strengthen the relationship between Jews and Muslims in the Middle East.

As President Kennedy famously said at his speech at American University in 1963: "Our problems are man-made, therefore they may be solved by man... No problem of human destiny is beyond human beings... our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet."

Let's take the hard work created by this week's agreement and make something great out of it.