On death of Abu Akleh: 'Don't base yourself on fake facts'

At Davos, Herzog issues sweeping call for ‘renewable Middle East’

President outlines plan for Middle East to become a ‘global hub of sustainable solutions in food, water and health,’ paving the way for Israel to broker ties with more Arab nations

Amy Spiro is a reporter and writer with The Times of Israel.

President Isaac Herzog addresses the assembly during the World Economic Forum annual meeting in Davos, on May 25, 2022. (Fabrice Coffrini/AFP)
President Isaac Herzog addresses the assembly during the World Economic Forum annual meeting in Davos, on May 25, 2022. (Fabrice Coffrini/AFP)

Addressing the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on Wednesday, President Isaac Herzog laid out a sweeping vision for a “renewable Middle East” with partnerships between Israel and its Arab neighbors on energy and sustainability.

“An outburst of energy is sweeping through the region — energy of change — which will dictate how the next generation grows up,” Herzog told the gathered crowd.

“Together, we can shape not only a new Middle East, but a renewable Middle East: a new regional alliance for a stable and sustainable future,” the president said in a special address at the high-profile gathering. “A Middle East that thrives as a global hub of sustainable solutions in food, water and health; that serves as a source of energy, mostly solar energy, to Europe, Asia and Africa.”

Herzog referenced Israel’s recent normalization of ties with Bahrain, Morocco, Sudan and the United Arab Emirates — which he has visited twice this year — as well as warming recent relations with longtime allies Egypt and Jordan, as measures that are “realigning the Middle East.”

“Warm winds of cooperation, dialogue and understanding are blowing through the region,” Herzog said. “People to people, non-profits, businesses, tourism — the change is apparent in virtually every sector and is enhancing the entire region.”

With Prime Minister Naftali Bennett vowing to focus more on domestic issues and hamstrung from certain diplomatic focuses by his narrow and shaky coalition, Herzog has taken on a pronounced role on Israel’s diplomatic front. Herzog, a longtime member and former leader of the left-wing Labor party, is also a more palatable international face for some global leaders than Bennett, a former settler chief.

President Isaac Herzog (left) and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the presidential complex in Ankara, on March 9, 2022. (Haim Zach/GPO)

Herzog made a groundbreaking visit earlier this year to Turkey as Ankara and Jerusalem explore refurbishing their ties, something the president mentioned in his speech on the same day that Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu paid a historic visit to Israel.

“The encouraging opportunity to turn a new leaf with Turkey, and the evolving collaboration with countries in the region with which we are eager to formalize relations, fills me with great optimism,” Herzog said at Davos. “I call on all countries and nations from near and far, to join these winds of change, partner with Israel, lead the future, and make history!”

His vision for a “renewable Middle East,” Herzog added, encompasses “a region that is not only new, in the sense of different, but is sustained by its own positive momentum, developing collaborative defense systems, joint infrastructure, and shared technologies for improving the world.”

Herzog implied that economic cooperation between Israel and its neighbors can pave the way to peace with further Arab nations.

“I truly believe that if only we choose the forces of light, the path to a drastically different, brighter future is closer than we can imagine,” he said “We will always  extend our hand in peace to all our neighbors, from the Levant to the Gulf, from the Maghreb to the Mashreq, from our immediate neighbors the Palestinians, to the entire Muslim world and also to the whole continent of Africa and the entire Middle East.”

He blamed “wide gaps and conflicting narratives” on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for keeping Jerusalem from being welcomed by many of its Arab neighbors.

President Isaac Herzog (L) and Jordanian King Abdullah II at the Al Husseiniya Palace in Amman, Jordan, March 30, 2022. (Haim Zach/GPO)

Amid intense recent criticism of Israel over the death of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh — who Israel insists could have been killed by either Palestinian gunmen or the IDF — as well as its conduct on the flashpoint Temple Mount site, Herzog defended the Jewish state.

“Israel remains fully committed to freedom of religion and worship, to deep respect towards all faiths in the Holy Land, and of course to upholding democratic values,” he said.

Herzog, asked after his speech about Abu Akleh’s death, called it a “very tragic event,” but said “there could be a few scenarios” that caused her death.

“The event came in the context of fighting terror in Jenin, following the murder of so many Israelis,” he said. “But what we have done, since we are a transparent nation that knows to run professional investigations and the rule of law is supreme in our land, we have offered the Palestinians a joint investigation as to the circumstances of this very tragic event. Unfortunately the Palestinians refused. They took the body, they took the bullet. Therefore one cannot substantiate any one of the scenarios without those facts.”

He also noted: “We have already in the past had cases where we were blamed and the truth transpired later, that there were a lot of fake facts regarding Israel. Don’t base yourself on fake facts. Study the facts. Facts can be studied scientifically. Unfortunately, the Palestinians refused to cooperate.”

Herzog ended his speech with an appeal for an upheaval of the status quo in the Middle East with an eye on sustainability and future generations.

“In order to secure a safe future for everyone in the Middle East, we must outline a nuanced, multifaceted approach incorporating geopolitical, climatic, and social needs,” he said. “We must work together, regionally, to fundamentally change our approach to our planet; to harness revolutionary technologies to create far-reaching prosperity, health, and well-being for our peoples; to embrace a new paradigm of tolerance, dialogue, and trust.”

AP contributed to this report.

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