'It is time for a renewable Middle East'

Confirming Turkey trip, Herzog presents vision of regional climate cooperation

At Haaretz-Hebrew University climate conference, president pledges to bring neighbors, including Palestinians, into partnership around water, solar energy

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

President Isaac Herzog speaking at the Haaretz and Hebrew University Israel Climate Change Conference, on February 23, 2022. (Haim Zach/GPO)
President Isaac Herzog speaking at the Haaretz and Hebrew University Israel Climate Change Conference, on February 23, 2022. (Haim Zach/GPO)

President Isaac Herzog on Wednesday morning laid out a bold vision of a regional partnership to create a “renewable Middle East.”

“I am speaking of regional cooperation in the fight against climate change,” he said in Jerusalem at the opening of the Haaretz and Hebrew University Israel Climate Change Conference. “To offer a twist on a familiar phrase, I believe that it is time for a ‘renewable Middle East.'”

Herzog spoke of joint environmental threats, especially around water resources, that can only be solved by cooperation.

“Just imagine collaboration with our neighbors in the Middle East, with the next two hosts of the global climate summits,” said the president, referring to Egypt and the United Arab Emirates.

“Imagine together with them, also Jordan, Bahrain, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and more and more, and of course also our Palestinian neighbors,” he continued.

Herzog also spoke publicly for the first time about his much-anticipated upcoming visit to Turkey, seen as a careful first step in restoring full diplomatic ties between the erstwhile partners.

Turkish and Israeli officials meet in Jerusalem, on February 17, 2022, to prepare for President Isaac Herzog’s upcoming visit to Turkey. (Courtesy)

“Over the next month I am going to visit our neighbors along the Mediterranean littoral — Greece, Cyprus, and Turkey — and to meet their leaders,” he said. “In addition to them, I remain in close and warm contact with the leadership of Egypt, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, and the Palestinian Authority. I intend to get them all on board for a regional partnership confronting the climate crisis.”

Herzog is set to depart for a one-day trip to Greece on Thursday, and will make a similar visit to Cyprus next week.

Though no date has been confirmed for his Turkey trip, officials in Ankara have pointed at the middle of March as a probable date.

The president laid out an alarming picture of the Middle East’s future climate, promising that the implications of climate  change “will be dramatic.”

He predicted “a catastrophe for everyone, for anyone living near the sea, for inhabitants of areas that will turn into deserts, for victims of lethal floods and heatwaves.”

The first solar panels to be erected on a reservoir by Nofar Energy, in the Jordan Valley. (YouTube screenshot)

The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change uses more restrained language around likely future scenarios, especially when trying to predict the future climate of specific regions in the near term.

“This is not a future catastrophe; these are not future statistics,” warned Herzog. “We are talking about the here and now. This is a fully-fledged existential threat.”

The address combines two areas where the president has sought to play an important role beyond the mostly symbolic duties of his position.

In October, Herzog announced the establishment of the Israeli Climate Forum, headed by former MK Dov Khenin, who served in Knesset on the Joint List and in the communist faction of the Hadash party.

Dov Khenin, formerly an MK for the Joint (Arab) List, seen during a committee meeting at the Knesset, on December 2, 2015. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The president has also taken on a prominent diplomatic role, an important asset to a broad governing coalition whose leadership is slated to change next year.

“Foreign leaders have taken note,” wrote The Times of Israel’s Tal Schneider, “speaking with Herzog on matters that would normally be reserved for the prime minister or foreign minister, thus turning the presidency from a little-regarded figurehead into a significant diplomatic force.”

In his speech, Herzog also brought up the possibility of one day cooperating with Syria and Lebanon — both of whom see Israel as a bitter enemy — over water resources.

Herzog spoke about the potential for the sun to “be a source of energy, and in fact a source of life, not only for our whole region, but also beyond — for Europe, for Asia, and for Africa. ”

“The regional challenge is shared by us all, and everyone gains from the solution,” he said.

Israel is well-situated to lead the search for environmental innovation, said the president.

“In a world of interests and fears, in a world of international paranoia — global crises are the best and most important engine for partnerships,” he said. “We must fight for this with all our strength and keep working until we achieve this renewable Middle East.”

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