Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

Politics Getting in the Way of Environmental Efforts and Progress for Peace

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Glen Falkenstein


The US Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro, in an interview to the Times of Israel last week, highlighted the necessity of Israelis and Palestinians working together on pressing environmental issues, including solar energy, clean air and water, even if complete reconciliation isn't around the corner. He commented:

 

"It's certainly possible for Israel and the Palestinian Authority to work together. Resources, after all, do not observe boundaries."
"We do promote projects that encourage both sides to work together, but politics does sometimes get in the way."

 

He's not wrong - even concerted efforts for environmental reform have been diverted by the fraught dynamics of the region.

In December, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and senior Israeli officials participated in the milestone Climate Conference in Paris, emphasising their continued commitment to furthering environmental science and renewable energies. Meeting with a range of world leaders, Israeli delegates played a public role in the Conference, as noted by BICOM:

"Netanyahu addressed the conference and emphasised that Israel is a pioneer in solar energy and, ‘We are a world leader in making the use of water more efficient, therefore more energy efficient.' He explained, ‘Everything that I'm talking about here has one goal. It's to optimize our resources; optimize the way we allocate our resources,' adding, ‘Israel has had to optimize all its life. We had no material resources.'
"Characterising Israel as ‘a small country with big ideas,' he said, ‘I believe that it's not enough that we have those ideas, or that we apply those ideas in our own country. We are eager to share them with you, both individually and as a collective body as well.'"

Also of great significance, the Conference marked the first time in five years that Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas have met, with the two shaking hands on the sidelines. In an important forum which has furthered an urgent cause on a global scale, as well as achieving the simple yet crucial goal that many have demanded for years - and Israelis have called for openly - of the two leaders meeting face to face, albeit briefly, a vocal minority nevertheless attempted to use the Conference to advance an agenda wholly critical of Israel. Shimon Samuels writing in the Jerusalem Post provides more details:

"Addressed by Swedish, Belgian and UN officials, discussion was based on a 2012 Zoï Environment Network Geneva-based NGO report on ‘Environment and Security in the Occupied Palestinian Territory." All maps in this 56-page paper have "Palestine" super-imposed over all of Israel, West Bank and Gaza.'
"This is explained as: ‘The word Palestine is used to refer to British Mandatory Palestine.'"
"(The Session) was then, however, twisted into an environmental attack on Israel that emphasized an absurd argument that recurrent environmental abuses by Israel had made Gaza and the West Bank ‘highly to very highly vulnerable to climate change.'"

Not a new claim, the accusation ignores Israel's actions and record on addressing environmental conditions in the Palestinian territories (explored here and here). Moreover, it undermines attempts to foster continued and necessary co-operation between Israelis and Palestinians in this field, given the ever-evolving climate conditions affecting both peoples. Notably both anti-Israel activists and leaders from the Palestinian Authority have been opposed to any co-operation with Israel, even on this front.

This claim also ignores Israel's record on the development and proliferation of climate and water technology to safeguard the environment not just in Israel, but in the region - innovations in which Australia, no stranger to the effects of climate change and environmental degradation, has expressed a keen interest (more information here and here). As an example, today it is expected that Regional Councils in Israel and Jordan will sign an agreement facilitated by the Israeli Regional Cooperation Ministry, to exchange agro-technology and share expertise between Israeli and Jordanian farmers. A statement from the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs explains that "The initiative is designed to resolve a long-term threat that vermin - mainly the housefly - pose to agriculture in the Jordan Valley, on both sides of the Jordan River, and promote advanced and efficient agriculture in both Israel and Jordan."

This is not the first time that UN conferences have been subjected to anti-Israel activism, with Samuels noting:

"The Wiesenthal Center was present at the 2002 UN Conference on Sustainable Development in Johannesberg (Rio+10), which was held in the shadow of the anti-Semitic paroxysm of the Durban World Conference Against Racism."
"We were likewise at the Rio de Janeiro (Rio +20) follow up Summit in 2012. In both, we faced BDS demonstrations against our environmental protection agency, the Jewish National Fund/Keren Kayemet."

The focus of much greater publicity, previous UN conferences on racism, including the 2001 Durban Conference, were notably hijacked to promote an anti-Israel agenda (more information here).

Criticism of Israel's role in combating climate change and promoting the environment is widely accepted as necessary to ensure it does its bit, as is the case with Australia and every other nation participating in the talks, while giving air-time to clear hostility, as opposed to constructive criticism, will only distract from the crucial issues at hand and undermine world efforts to combat climate change.

Much of the criticism of Israel's contribution to the talks and the goals of the Conference has in fact come from within Israel, as noted by the JTA:

"The historic deal leaves much to be desired, a range of Israeli climate activists, experts and government officials say. They point out that Israel's plan to help reduce global warming falls short of what other countries have vowed to do. And some Israelis have expressed doubt that the plan will be implemented at all - Israel won't face concrete repercussions if it fails to meet its goals beyond being excluded from the accord moving forward."
"Still, Israeli environmentalists say Israel's commitments under the deal are a welcome first step. They hope Israel's proposal will encourage the government to make clean energy a priority. And they expect that the accord will create a global market push to expand environmentally friendly businesses and products."

While no one is immune to criticism, it is clear that only through a vibrant and open discussion, both internally and with other countries, can Israel and other nations contribute to the globally-agreed goal of combating climate change. Moreover, increasingly essential environmental interdependency between developing nations will require ongoing co-operation, which can also serve as a basis for practical, continuing collaboration and reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians. Attempts to distract from these goals by promoting a flawed perception of Israel's environmental credentials to achieve political aims will only undermine these efforts.

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