The Arava Institute and our Palestinian partner Damour Company for Community Development held the 4th Track II Environmental Cooperation Conference as an online webinar over four days in early December. The event was generously funded by the European Union Peacebuilding Initiative.
On the first day, Damour and the Arava Institute presented the dramatic achievements of the Track II Environmental Forum being implemented across the region. These bottom-up high impact solutions to environmental and humanitarian challenges improve lives, demonstrate the feasibility and effectiveness of modular off-grid solutions, and build trust. Select achievements include the following:
- WaterGen atmospheric drinking water generators and neighborhood wastewater treatment and reuse systems were introduced into Gaza;
- agreements were reached between officials in the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli authorities on the route of a treated wastewater trunk line, to bring water for agriculture to Palestinian farmers in the Jericho Valley;
- the Track II Young Professionals Forum, a network which includes Palestinians, Jordanians and young people from the wider Middle East North Africa region, was established to promote a new paradigm of regional opportunities;
- our partner, Prof. Jim Hall from the Oxford Martin School, spoke about energy and water resource modeling and cooperation;
- Palestinian and Israeli medical professionals discussed joint cross-border approaches to mitigating the impact of climate change on public health.
On day two of the webinar, donors from the US based Friends of the Arava Institute were invited to hear from some of the project leaders and learn first hand about the impact their support of the Track II Environmental Forum has had over the past four years. Prof. Richard Caplan and Dr. Nurit Gal, fellows of the Oxford Martin School, discussed the benefits of regional cooperation in order to facilitate secure geo-political stability and national energy futures.
On day three, practitioners convened to discuss the next projects for the Track II Environmental Forum. In 2016 Palestinian, Jordanian and Israel academics, researchers and environmental professionals met in round tables at the first Track II Environmental Cooperation Conference at the Arava Institute to discuss cross-border energy, water and climate change solutions. After four years and significant achievements, the working groups are now scaling up current projects, and turning their attention to new opportunities to impact the region and reset the narrative, through social media and new coalitions taking advantage of the shifting geopolitical landscape.
On the final day of the webinar, participants had the chance to hear experienced diplomats and negotiators speak about the shifting sands of the Middle East as a result of the Abraham Accords, the new US Administration, and what opportunities may be revealed to advance a Two-State Solution. The event was hosted by former Israeli Ambassador to France, Daniel Shek, who pointed out the need to evaluate the potential impact of these important events on future cross-border environmental projects
The program opened with a call from both former Palestinian Authority Minister Tahani Abu Daqqa, and former head of the Meretz party and member of Israeli Parliament, Zehava Galon, for genuine progress towards a Two-State Solution. Speakers included:
- Amb. Daniel Shapiro, former US Ambassador to Israel during the Obama Administration, who cautioned that in his opinion, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict will not be the first order of business on incoming president Biden’s, plate but that we could expect a renewal of contact with the US Administration, as well as support for Israeli-Palestinian cooperation.
- Dr. Varsen Aghabekian, consultant to President Abbas, who set out the parameters of the diplomatic position for the Palestinian Authority.
- seasoned Middle East negotiators, former US Envoy to the Middle East Amb. Dennis Ross, Palestinian advisor to the Palestinian negotiating team Ghaith Al Omari, and retired Israeli Brig. Gen. Michael Herzog, who all pointed to the opportunity the Abraham Accords afford both the Palestinians and the Israelis to revitalize dialogue, but also warned of the dangers in once again missing this opportunity.
- former member of the Israeli Knesset Dov Khenin, and former Minister in the PA Ashraf Ajrami who discussed the local politics and the implications for a potential renewal of direct or indirect negotiations.
- Dr. Shadad Atilli, current Minister without portfolio and former Minister of Water for the Palestinian Authority, recognized that Palestinians need to re-strategize in light of the normalization between Israel and several Arab States, and called for both Israelis and Palestinians to “keep our voice loud on behalf of peace”.
Dr. Deborah Sandler, Chair of the Track II Environmental Forum, closed the webinar by summing up the importance of personal relationships, partnership, and trust which has been built up over the past four years through intensive cooperation in solving environmental problems and challenges to our region.
As we look forward to the next four years, it is very clear that the looming threat of climate change and its impact on people and on their security will require a new level of commitment and scaling up of our work. COVID-19 was just a forerunner of what is to come. For years Palestinians and Israelis have seen each other as adversaries but now, without abandoning our national aspirations or security concerns, we must see each other as partners in the fight against the unseen existential threat of acute environmental stress and climate change. In order to meet this challenge, the Track II Environmental Forum will continue to implement change on the ground but will now add a new diplomatic and strategic dimension to our work in partnership with colleagues from Oxford University, international and national think-tanks and experienced diplomats. We will continue to focus on bottom-up high-impact solutions to improve lives on the ground, nurturing an atmosphere of cooperation and trust, while we add a new strategic level to our work demonstrating feasibility, replicability, and a pathway to peace and sustainability for the Middle East.
David Lehrer, Executive Director