20/03/2013 09:53 GMT | Updated 20/05/2013 06:12 BST

Obama Should Get Behind Dead Sea Canal Project for Peace in Region

Water, not settlements, should be President Barrack Obama's concern during his visit to Israel. Why? Because water is the one resource Israel and the West Bank Palestinians have in common with the Jordanians. And it's a project they are working on together.

The monumental Dead Sea Canal project could be nearing reality, with some Palestinian objections the main things holding it back at present. But unlike the issue of Palestinian statehood, the canal project has all party support and is realistically achievable even amid the peace stalemate.

The Dead, the lowest place on earth also one of the saltiest bodies of water has been drying up for years, even though its fed by the Jordan River. The water level is shrinking at a rate of more than one metre per year, and its surface area has shrunk by about 30% in the last 20 years. This is largely due to the diversion of about 90% of river's volume by the burgeoning Israeli, Jordanian and Palestinian populations.

The plan is to replenish the Dead Sea with water from the Red Sea via a pipeline and canal, one that would also generate electricity. Engineers figure the 420 meter drop from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea can be used to power hydroelectric plants that would generate electricity to operate the world's largest water desalinization facilities turning the salt water into drinkable water, most of which would go to Jordan.

The proposal would pump seawater 230 meters uphill from the Red Sea's Gulf of Aqaba then flow down by gravity through multiple pipelines to the Dead Sea and an open Canal to the Sea itself, which lies about 420 m below sea level.

The World Bank estimated the total cost at almost $10 billion, but said much of this sum could be financed out of the profits from selling the desalinated water and electricity.

If Obama got behind this plan it would help the region and possibly bring the Palestinians and Israelis closer together on the pressing issue of Palestinian statehood, something Israeli West Bank settlement activity has failed to do.

As it now stands, alleged illegal West Bank settlement activity may be the President's chief concern. Yet dwelling on this may be fruitless and needless. What westerners fail to realize is the horse-trading that is part and parcel of the Middle East. The main political reason for settlement building is to put pressure on the Palestinians to negotiate unconditionally.

Israel has been quite willing in the past to evacuate and dismantle settlements when it suited its negotiation stance. This has happened in the Sinai and Gaza Strip.

The Palestinian Authority of the West Bank might be willing to negotiate unconditionally with Israel if it weren't for the hype trumped up by the media on the settlement issue. As long as PLO leader Mahmoud Abbas has allies in the West to pressure Israel, he's content to wait and see.

On the other hand, there are many Israelis, especially those living in the settlements, who feel they have simply moved back to their ancient homeland of Samaria, which by the way is home to most of the few remaining Samaritans. It remains to be seen what militancy might result if they end up as part of a duplicitous political sell-out to the Palestinians.

Yet, these are "what if" possibilities in the distant future. The Dead Sea project is alive and now. It's a realistic achievable goal Obama should get behind with enthusiasm.