As the example of the Abraham Accords in particular demonstrates, peace is slowly being built, one energy, water and agritech project at a time.


Published: MAY 26, 2023

I moved to Israel 16 years ago, and the one thing I wasn’t expecting to love about life here was the light. While I’m no fan of the heat or sun, I fell in love with the brightness. 

Fast forward to 2023, and I have finally learned to cope with the humidity. However, it’s now projected to get even hotter in this part of the world. With climate change, the Middle East is reportedly warming faster than anywhere else. 

The region already struggles with drought, desertification and wildfires. This puts pressure on water, farmland and food supplies, threatening populations that have to grapple with often unbearably high temperatures, impacting health. The “bad” news (if that weren’t enough) is that such pressures have exacerbated conflicts and could potentially create new conflicts. The “good” news is that they also create multiple opportunities for diplomacy. 

Take the past few months in Israel as an example. While it feels like everyone’s focus has been entirely on the proposed judicial reformlegislation and the rockets from Gaza, Israel has also been busy on the diplomatic front, and climate cooperation is playing a key part in this.

A diplomatic whirlwind

In April, Foreign Minister Eli Cohen visited Azerbaijan, bringing with him a business delegation that included Israeli companies in the water and agriculture sectors. Together with Azerbaijan’s ecology and natural resources minister, he signed an agreement to collaborate on climate change, specifically on the challenges of managing waste, air and water quality, preventing land degradation, climate change mitigation and adaption measures, and promoting environmental technologies. 

 Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen and his Azerbaijani counterpart. (credit: MIRI SHIMONOVICH/FOREIGN MINISTRY)Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen and his Azerbaijani counterpart. (credit: MIRI SHIMONOVICH/FOREIGN MINISTRY)

Cohen also became the first Israeli minister in almost three decades to visit neighboring Turkmenistan, where he suggested that Israel plans to broaden economic ties to include agriculture, water, technology and border defense. 

Climate collaboration has also featured prominently in the Abraham Accords. In May, Israel’s ambassador to the United Arab Emirates, Amir Hayek, tweeted that in the first three months of 2023 trade – excluding software – between Israel and the UAE reached $783 million. That’s an increase of over 62% compared with the same period in 2022. 

Key areas of cooperation between the two countries include water, agriculture and energy, and the Israel-UAE Free Trade Agreement is expected to increase cooperation even further.

Trade between Israel and Bahrain doubled in the first quarter of 2023 compared to the same period last year. In March, Israel’s Start-Up Nation Central organized the #Connect2Innovate conference with the Bahraini Industry and Commerce Ministry and the Economic Development Board of Bahrain. Israel has more than 850 climate tech start-ups and growth-stage companies, and the event provided a platform for further collaborations to help address environmental, social and economic development goals. 

In Morocco, trade increased by 258% in the first three months of 2023 compared to the first quarter of 2022. There are several research and development partnerships between Israeli and Moroccan research institutes and universities, focusing on agricultural and sustainable development projects. 

In March, irrigation specialist Netafim opened a factory in Kenitra, its first in North Africa. And in May, Economy Minister Nir Barkat visited Morocco to inaugurate the first-ever Israeli pavilion at the SIAM 2023 Agricultural Forum. Great interest was shown concerning cooperation on desert technology, energy and food security, with Barkat suggesting that the two countries are “building bridges of peace in the Middle East through economics.”

The I2U2 initiative, involving Israel, India, the US and the UAE, was born out of the Abraham Accords. This is described as a partnership focused on economic development and food security, amid global climate change, with key areas including energy, sustainable agriculture and water. In April, the I2U2 countries announced the creation of a joint business coalition. This will involve officials and business councils collaborating to attract private sector partners to the initiative. The main areas of focus in 2023 will be on sustainable and renewable energy, as well as energy efficiency, building up to the COP 28 summit which is being held in the UAE in December.  

For many years now, Israel and India have also been cooperating on sustainable agriculture and water. Joint activities have begun in healthcare; in May, Israel and India signed an MoU on industrial R&D cooperation, with a focus on several areas, including ecology, environment, earth and ocean sciences and water. 

Cohen’s brief visit to Delhi in May expanded the strategic partnership further, and Union Minister Jitendra Singh suggested that bilaterally, as well as through the I2U2 initiative, India and Israel play a larger role in addressing some of the greatest challenges facing the world, such as water, energy and food security.

Strengthening existing ties and creating new ones

The Negev Forum was also born out of the Abraham Accords. This includes signatories to the accords, as well as Egypt, which was the first Arab country to recognize Israel. Six working groups will focus on cooperation in the areas of food security, water technology and clean energy, among others. The idea is to promote existing methods and technologies, develop new approaches, share best practices, and develop policies that promote coexistence and cross-cultural understanding, ultimately promoting regional security. 

While Jordan has been noticeably absent from the Negev Forum, and despite recent tensions over the status quo at the Temple Mount/al-Aqsa compound, relations between Israel and Jordan are also longstanding. These have been strengthened by joint economic and ecological projects, including the solar water deal. 

Through this, Jordan – one of the world’s most water-parched nations – will receive desalinated water from Israel. In return, Israel – one of the world’s smallest countries – will receive energy generated from fields of solar panels in Jordan. While experts suggest that progress appears slow, the goal is reportedly to continue developing the plans in time for COP28.

PEACE WITH Iran is clearly not expected anytime soon. However, Rez Pahlavi, an opposition leader in exile to the Iranian regime, made a point of visiting a water desalination site during his historic visit to Israel in April. He called for his country to engage in partnership with Israel to reverse environmental damage and rebuild Iran’s water ecosystem, tweeting that “the Islamic Republic is turning lakes, rivers and wetlands into deserts, while in Israel, government and industry are converting the desert into water.”

Progress may be being made, however, to develop relations with other countries, including reportedly Sudan (which is currently facing political instability), Niger and potentially three other African countries. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said peace with Saudi Arabia is among his top goals, and US Senator Lindsay Graham said there is a one-year window before the US elections to make this a possibility. 

There are obviously a lot more geopolitical considerations when it comes to peace-building with Israel than environmental factors – relations with the US, Palestinians, Iran and domestic opinion being just some factors involved. However, it is interesting that as governments set out their visions for a better future, climate collaboration is playing a part in strengthening ties. 

As the example of the Abraham Accords in particular demonstrates, peace is slowly being built, one energy, water and agritech project at a time.

The writer is Middle East correspondent for India’s WION (World Is One) TV news channel. She is also the author of Tikkun Olam: Israel vs COVID-19, has helped numerous multinationals report on their contributions to tackling the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. On Twitter: @JodieCohen613 .