Climate cooperation
Israel and its neighbors are facing formidable challenges presented by climate change. And the solutions can be found only through cooperation and the sharing of resources.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spent Monday in Paris with some 140 world leaders at a conference on climate change. Attendance was particularly high, since the conference, planned months ago, has morphed into a show of solidarity for France following the Paris terrorist attacks of Friday, November 13.

That’s not to say climate change and violent conflict are unrelated. It is no secret, for instance, that the Syrian civil war was precipitated by the worst drought in Syria’s recent history. Perhaps if the negative effects of the drought had been dealt with earlier, the situation in Syria would not have spiraled out of control.

In any event, Syria can serve as a lesson for Israel. True, the Jewish state has met the formidable challenges presented by steadily falling levels of precipitation.

As Netanyahu noted in a 2014 meeting with California Gov. Jerry Brown, “Our rainfall has dropped by half in the 65 years of Israel’s existence, our population has grown 10-fold and our economy has grown 70 times. Why don’t we have a water problem? Because we use technology to solve it.”

The prime minister was referring to Israel’s tremendous desalination project, which includes five plants and produces 650 million cubic meters of potable water a year.

However, desalination is highly energy intensive. About 10 percent of Israel’s electricity output is used for desalination, which means more carbon emissions.

Also, while Israel rose to the challenges of climate change – more impressively than California, in fact – its neighbors in Jordan, on the Gaza Strip and in the West Bank have fared less well. And this has implications for Israel.

The 1.8 million Gaza Palestinians have almost completely run out of clean drinking water. There is not enough electricity to run the sewage treatment plant, which means too much water is being pumped from the Gaza aquifer, resulting in seepage from the Mediterranean. Not only does raw sewage pollute Israel’s waters, the lack of drinking water creates a humanitarian time bomb waiting to explode.

Meanwhile, Jordan faces challenges of its own: a constantly growing water demand and a weak, unstable economy.

Israel has committed to providing Jordan with desalinated water, but this tends to generate resentment among Jordanians who do not want to be dependent on Israel’s largesse.

The Palestinians have their own water and sewage treatment problems, which have direct implications for Israel, such as the pollution of wadis and tributaries shared by Israelis and Palestinians. What is desperately needed is an encompassing plan for environmental cooperation and energy sharing that would include Israel, Jordan and the Palestinians. And it just so happens that there is an NGO with the vision and innovation to formulate such a plan.

The NGO is called EcoPeace Middle East, and the idea is to foster interdependence that utilizes the relative geographic advantages of Israel, Jordan, Gaza and the West Bank. The entire plan will be presented this Thursday at the Institute for National Security Studies during a conference entitled “Climate Change and the Geopolitics of Water and Energy.”

Here are some highlights: High radiation levels and large tracts of arid land make Jordan ideal for the establishment of large-scale solar power fields. According to EcoPeace, these fields would not only fully supply all of Jordan’s energy needs without carbon emissions, they would also produce enough electricity to sell to Israel or to the Palestinians.

This electricity could be used to power Gaza’s sewage treatment plant, and perhaps a desalination plant as well. Both Gaza and Israel are coastal, allowing them to desalinate at relatively low costs. Jordan could be provided with desalinated water in exchange for solar-produced electricity.

Jordan’s economy would be strengthened from the revenues and income from selling solar-produced electricity, and an economically stable Jordan would be a tremendous strategic asset for Israel. Palestinians would also benefit from the solar electricity produced in Jordan, and Israel could work closer with the Palestinians to build more sewage treatment plants. This, in turn, would reduce the level of pollution in Israel’s tributaries and rivers.

Israel and its neighbors are facing formidable challenges presented by climate change. And the solutions can be found only through cooperation and the sharing of resources.

Netanyahu hardly needed to travel all the way to Paris to discover this, but the international attention given this week to climate change might be the perfect opportunity to adopt EcoPeace’s vision for the region.