Roosevelt Institute | Cornell University

Inviting Palestinians to the Regional Climate PartyTrilateral Solar Energy Deal Could Open Doors to Israel-Palestine Talks

By Avraham SpraragenPublished December 29, 2021

Israel, Jordan, and the UAE made progress on combating climate change in a sign of warming Israeli-Jordanian relations. The recent trilateral solar energy deal could also be leveraged to make
Israel, Jordan, and the UAE made progress on combating climate change in a sign of warming Israeli-Jordanian relations. The recent trilateral solar energy deal could also be leveraged to make progress on the Palestinian issue.

An Israeli minister, Jordanian minister, and Emirati minister came together for a groundbreaking signing ceremony at the international Expo 2020 fair last month. This event was made possible by the controversial 2020 Abraham Accords, which normalized relations between the State of Israel and Gulf Arab States while callously bypassing the Palestinian crisis. Nevertheless, before the Accords, such a ceremony in Dubai was completely unimaginable.

The careful diplomacy of the U.S.’s Special Presidential Envoy for Climate (John Kerry), combined with strategic United Arab Emirates (UAE) mediation, brought about the largest-ever climate agreement between Israel and its Arab neighbors. This water-for-energy deal will provide 200 million cubic meters of desalinated Israeli water in exchange for 600 megawatts of Jordanian electricity generated from solar energy. The UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs cited the urgent need to “address the threat posed by climate change,” raising the question of whether collective action on global warming could also facilitate the warming of Arab-Israel ties. As Kerry departs for Amman to build upon the recent COP26 climate conference, the trilateral landmark solar energy declaration appears to be strengthening the Israel-Jordan relationship. In addition to potentially heralding a shift from Israeli-Jordanian “cold” or relative peace to “warm” peace, this relational enhancement creates opportunities for greater regional cooperation on issues ranging from climate adaptation to the plight of Palestinians.

The efforts of Yair Lapid, who serves as both the Israeli foreign minister and alternate prime minister in the new coalition government of Israel, were reportedly instrumental to the breakthrough at Expo 2020. This diplomatic achievement is part of the ongoing push by Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and his nascent government to rehabilitate the Israel-Jordan relationship, following its erosion by his predecessor, Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu. Bibi, now the leader of the opposition, accused Bennett of empowering the Islamic Republic of Iran and undermining the Jewish State by aligning with the Hashemite Kingdom. Bennett responded that “a good relationship with Jordan is a national security interest of Israel.” After years of strained ties between the two countries, despite the 1994 Israel-Jordan peace treaty, Prime Minister Bennett secretly met with King of Jordan Abdullah II in his Amman palace last summer. The two leaders agreed to turn the page on Israeli-Jordanian relations and, in follow-up meetings, Foreign Minister Lapid and his counterpart Ayman Safadi have begun to do just that. The water-for-energy deal is the latest manifestation of this rapprochement and has the potential to realign the Levant region.

The “Green Blue Deal for the Middle East” proposal by EcoPeace Middle East is the vision behind the solar energy declaration. EcoPeace is a regional environmental peacebuilding organization that brings Israelis, Palestinians, and Jordanians together to address shared ecological concerns. Israel needs renewable energy, but it lacks the land mass available in neighboring Jordan to build solar farms. Meanwhile, Jordan suffers from a scarcity of water and from limited desalination capabilities. Developing a desalination system on the Red Sea coastline in southern Aqaba would be a far less efficient option for Jordan than importing desalinated water from Israel’s Mediterranean coastline. To address these concerns, Israel’s Energy Minister Karine Elharrar, Jordan’s Water Minister Mohammed Al-Najjar, and UAE’s Climate Change Minister Mariam Almheiri signed a two-part deal in Dubai on November 22, 2021. U.S. Climate Envoy Kerry and UAE Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed oversaw the formalization of “Prosperity Green” and “Prosperity Blue.” The first part of the deal is a program for the construction of Jordanian solar farms by UAE energy company Masdar, and the second is a desalination program for Israeli plants to transfer sustainable water into Jordan. Solar farms will be operational by 2026 and will produce 2% of Israel’s energy in return for the doubling of Jordan’s water purchases from Israel by 2030.

Hundreds gathered in the Jordanian capital to protest this regional Israeli integration measure, which neglects the illegal occupation of Palestinian territory. The Amman protests ignore, however, the longstanding reality of Israeli-Jordanian cooperation on gas infrastructure and hydroelectricity. Crucially, given that Jordan shares the longest border with Israel, bilateral cooperation is unavoidable and indeed mutually beneficial. The Dubai deal is a model for productive collaboration on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but only with Palestinian participation can such collaboration succeed. Any future resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would require coordination with the Palestinian Authority on climate issues. Hence, continued sidestepping of the Palestinians by the signatories of the Abraham Accords would be shortsighted and counterproductive. Israeli Energy Minister Elharrar said that her signature is “a message to the whole world about how countries can work together to combat the climate crisis.” Israel must also send an invitation for Palestinian participation in this vital work, lest it fail on both practical and moral levels. This invite would open the door to further climate progress, and perhaps to renewed Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.