Director’s blog: The importance of regional environmental cooperation

The last month has been encouraging for the future of environmental cooperation in the Middle East, both within the Institute, and on a wider political level. Recently, President Mahmoud Abbas and several Palestinian ministers met Israeli ministers Benny Gantz, Esawi Freige, and Tamar Zandberg, to discuss shared environmental issues. This meeting was an important milestone in emphasizing that cross-border environmental challenges are a priority for both sides, and I am sure that the presence of Esawi Freige as a Palestinian-Israeli helped in facilitating a successful exchange.

I recently participated in a meeting at the office of the Minister of Environmental Protection, Tamar Zandberg, about environmental cooperation between Israel, Jordan, and the Palestinian Authority. During the meeting, which was attended by representatives of the Knesset, the Ministry of Regional Cooperation, and various civil society actors, we were reassured of the importance of transboundary environmental cooperation to the current Israeli government, who understands that our challenges cannot be faced by one side alone.

This is a wonderful opportunity for the Arava Institute to join the table with our 25 years of experience in cross-boundary cooperation and trust-building in the environmental field. We have learned that the most important thing in working together is not the type or scope of projects, but how these joint efforts are conducted. The Palestinian stakeholders need to be approached and recruited as equal partners, who ultimately will own their side of the solution to environmental issues such as wastewater treatment or safe waste disposal. Some very urgent projects are a priority for both sides of the conflict, but have been left “on the shelf” for many years because of the lack of dialogue between the necessary partners.

Platforms like our Track II Environmental Forum are an important tool in the process of bringing people together, working with Palestinian partners taking the lead on cooperative projects, and advocating for their benefit to Israel. Water, energy, waste disposal solutions – all of these will have an impact on national security in all countries of the region, once sustainable solutions are implemented. The Track II Forum has just established the Center for Applied Environmental Diplomacy as an international institution combining regional environmental diplomatic activity, academic research, and the initiation and execution of projects throughout the Middle East. The goal is to provide Palestinians and Israelis with an address for consultation and management of regional environmental solutions. The Center will have the know-how and tools to implement sustainable projects on the ground.

The pressing environmental challenges faced by the Middle East are inherently transboundary, therefore cooperation in solving these challenges and adapting to climate change is essential. The Arava Institute will be part of the Israeli delegation to the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow. The international frameworks and negotiations for climate change mitigation and adaptation are at a crucial moment for the world, and for our region especially as a climate change spot. I am honored to have been chosen as part of the country’s representation, and look forward to convey the importance of environmental cooperation and civil environmental diplomacy at this world arena.

Dr. Tareq Abu Hamed
Executive Director

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