2018 Annual Track II Conference
The third annual Track II Environmental Forum Conference occurred on November 13th and 14th at the Arava Institute located on Kibbutz Ketura. The conference aimed to highlight the progress of the Track II working groups, encourage productive dialogue between Track I and Track II Environmental Forum participants, and outline a pathway and work plan for the year ahead. The conference was a success despite difficult circumstances simultaneously unfolding in Gaza, which hindered the participation of several expected attendees. Despite these challenges, ninety-six participants attended, a significantly higher number than last year’s attendance of eighty-five.
Of the participants, 40% were female participants, and a variety of nationalities were also represented: 24% were Palestinian, 55% were Israeli, 6% were Jordanian, and 15% were international. The ratio of Palestinian (West Bank and Gaza) participants would have been naturally higher if it were not for the political situation over those days, with eleven individuals being unwilling or unable to attend. It is worth noting that thirty-four Gazans had initially registered for our permit pr
ocess prior to the conference. Sadly, the timing to reach out to these individuals, foster the relationships and establish the trust to obtain relevant permit materials hindered the process, leaving limited time to process permits through the relevant authorities. Two Gazan permits were granted less
than twenty-four hours before the conference, not long after the Erez crossing closed due to the escalation of conflict
The conference opened with the acknowledgement of the stress and concern affecting many participants in the wake of the events at the Gaza border, and the audience was asked to note the absence of the twenty-five Gazans who applied for permits.
Dr. Deborah Sandler opened the Track II Environmental Forum Working Group Plenary Session by praising the progress made by the groups this year. Dr. Yara Dahdal and Robin Twite, the heads of the Climate Change working group, presented the group’s plan for a Regional Climate Change Adaptation Centre. Dr. Noam Segal and Dr. Michael Gilmont, the heads of the Blueprint pilot project as part of the Climate Change working group, presented their efforts to create a regional blueprint for water and energy in Jordan, Palestine, and Israel. Finally, Dr. Shmuel Brenner and Mr. Mahmoud Khweis presented the work of the Renewable Energy Working Group.
This session was facilitated by Dr. Tareq Abu Hamed, Academic Director of the Arava Institute, and the panellists were MK Mossi Raz of the Meretz party, Dr. Abu Hamed, and Mr. Mahmoud Khweis, CEO at Procure.ps for Training and Logistics Services. Dr. Tareq Abu Hamed followed with a presentation from a Gazan colleague who, unfortunately, could not be there to present due to the political circumstances.
This panel was facilitated by Suleiman Halasah, Founding Director of iGreens, a Jordanian environmental consulting firm. The panelists were Oded Fixler, Senior Director of the Israeli Ministry of Regional Cooperation, Dr. Haisam Hassanein, a policy analyst and former fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, and Dr. Mohammad Asha, former Member of the Jordanian Parliament and the current Head of Water and Environment Committee of the Arab Business Federation.
Following the plenary session on regional diplomacy, Ambassador Daniel Shek facilitated a session on international diplomacy, funding, and peacebuilding. The panellists compared Track I and Track II as each process relates to the role of the environment in the future of the two-state solution. Ambassador Dennis Ross and the European Union’s Ambassador to Israel, Emanuele Giaufret, gave addresses.
The session was facilitated by Professor Alon Tal, a founder of the Arava Institute and professor at Tel Aviv University. The panellists were MK Zehava Galon, former Chair of the Meretz Party; Ilan Baruch, former Israeli Ambassador to South Africa; Dr. Alfred Abed Rabbo, Associate Professor at Bethlehem University; and Mr. Muhanad Kharraz, Co-Founder of WATA Solution and an Arava Institute alum.
This session, facilitated by Shira Kronich, the Track II Strategy and Operations Manager, focused on peacebuilding efforts of NGOs and civic society in Palestine and Israel. The panelists were Shaked Morag, Executive Director of Peace Now; David Lehrer, Executive Director of the Arava Institute; and Nivine Sandouka, Executive Co-Director of Israel Palestine: Creative Regional Initiatives (IPCRI).
This session was facilitated by Dr. Deborah Sandler and the panellists were Alexis Polovina, Economic Officer in the Economic Growth and Infrastructure Office at the USAID West Bank/Gaza Mission; Eng. Fadi Bkirat, Founder and General Manager of Racktech; and Yosef Abramowitz, President and CEO of Energiya Global Capital and co-founder of the Arava Power Company.
The conference ended with an interactive session of idea sharing and feedback regarding the conference, as well as thanking all involved. Shira Kronich facilitated the session, and opened by asking participants to discuss where they see the future and their engagement in the forum moving forward. Key suggestions for Track II organizers included creating more opportunities for mentorship and allowing more networking time and roundtables in the next conference. Generally speaking, multiple participants praised the work of Track II and the content of the conference.
Ambassador Dennis Ross speaking at the 2017 conference
On September 13th-14th, 2017, the second annual Track II Environmental Conference was held at the Arava Institute. The conference, entitled “Promoting environmental agreements between Jordan, Israel and Palestine, to improve lives, protect the environment, and support sustainable resolution of conflict”, aimed to highlight the progress of the Track II working groups launched at last year’s conference, encourage productive dialogue between Track I and Track II Environmental Forum participants, and outline a pathway and work plan for the year ahead. It was attended by 85 participants from Israel, Jordan, Palestine and the United States, including some members of the Knesset and Palestinian politicians, as well as high ranking environmental stakeholders.
The conference was opened with welcoming addresses from Tahani Abu Dagga and Dr. Ziad Darwish from the Palestinian Committee for Interaction with Israeli Society, who praised the Arava Institute for discussing regional problems with “love and conviction”, and expressed hope for a common sustainable future in the region despite the current political situation. MK Amir Peretz also gave stirring welcoming remarks. Following opening remarks and summaries of the working process throughout the past year, participants had the opportunity to hear Palestinian and Israeli officials and stakeholders in plenary sessions focusing on different topics.
During a panel on “Recent Track I Cross-Border Environmental Agreements – Can they be an impetus for real environmental change in the region?”, Adv. Shiri Milo-Loker, a Senior Audit Manager at the State Comptroller’s Office, MK Yael Cohen Paran, a physicist with the Green Movement who is currently serving in the Knesset with the Zionist Union, Dr. Shaddad Attilli, a policy advisor for the Palestine Liberation Organization’s Negotiations Affairs Department and former PA Minister of Water and Head of the Palestinian Water Authority (PWA), Alon Etkin, representing the Ministry of Regional Cooperation, and economist Ahmad Hindi, a member of the Palestinian Committee for Interaction with Israeli Society, discussed recent research and reports, as well as conditions in the West Bank and Gaza.
The following session, facilitated by Al-Monitor columnist Akiva Eldar, focused on “advancing Cross-border environmental agreements between Israel, the Palestinian Authority, and Jordan in preparation for a two-State solution”. The topic was discussed by Dr. Shaddad Attilli, former Minister of the Palestinian Water Authority, MK Ksenia Svetlova and MK Yehiel “Hilik” Bar, Members of the Knesset for the Zionist Union, and United States Ambassador Dennis Ross, who was the point man on the peace process in both the George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton administrations. A lively discussion developed between Palestinians speakers and Israeli members of Knesset, but all could agree on the necessity to share information and technology immediately, regardless of the current governments’ inability to engage in dialogue, to end the suffering of ordinary citizens.
On the morning of the second day, keynote Speaker Ambassador Dennis Ross addressed the audience on the role of Track II in facilitating cross-border agreements, based on the history of negotiations in the Middle East. He explained the difficulty of reconciling “two rights” from two national identities, and reviewed the history of negotiations during his time with the Clinton administration. Amb. Ross expressed his belief that Track II discussions and projects are important in creating a sense of possibility for greater Track I discussions.
Amb. Ross’ address was followed by a discussion on Gaza’s environmental and humanitarian crisis. This session included MK Issawi Freij (Meretz party), Eng. Ahmad Yaqubi, Gazan water resources expert, and Salah Mohsen, Director of the Research Department at Gisha – Legal Center for Freedom of Movement. It was emphasized that the water crisis in Gaza can be easily solved technically, and that the only barrier is political.
After a working group session that gave participants an opportunity to discuss further steps with partners in their field of expertise, the conference was concluded by David Lehrer, the Executive Director of the Arava Institute, with a closing summation, focusing on the principle that each side has its own narrative, that needs to be acknowledged. He then encouraged NGOs to work together on the issues, adding “you would be surprised what a small organization can do.”
A conference entitled “Building Cross-border Environmental Agreements between Israel, Jordan and Palestine”, held September 7-8,brought together over 50 participants who formed working groups and plan to take action in the coming year on critical environmental needs across the region. The Institute hosted this conference as an inaugural step towards the fulfillment of its mission to advance cross-border environmental discourse.
The conference began with a video greeting from President Reuven Rivlin and an opening keynote address about the future for environmental cooperation between Israel, Jordan and Palestine from Dr. Yousef Abu Safieh, former Chairman of Environmental Authority, Palestine.
Participants then formed three working round tables on the topics of climate change, wastewater treatment and re-use, and renewable energy. Through these discussions, committed working groups were formed to identify pragmatic issues and problems in each specific area, and begin formulating creative suggestions on how to facilitate steps towards change. By the end of the conference, each group drafted a list of practical key action points for the coming year. Issues the groups wished to address include: the challenges of wastewater in regards to Gaza; challenges of solar project in the West Bank; an Arava Valley Israel-Jordan energy water swap proposal; the drafting of a regional adaption plan to climate change based on the respective national plans.
The evening keynote speaker was Dr. Yossi Beilin, former Minister of Justice, Israel, answering the question – Is cooperation feasible in the current political environment? Dr. Beilin stressed the scarcity of jointly agreed upon workable proposals and plans on issues of environment and water for use in future negotiations and peace talks, encouraging conference members to fill this gap.
The cross-border environmental cooperation conference will be an annual event promoting dialogue between policy makers, professionals, and other stake holders, and enable them to meet on a regular basis in a secure environment; the ultimate aim being to create agreements between the countries of the region on the sustainable management of joint environmental resources