Herzog meets Mideast leaders, new British PM at UN climate conference
Days after elections, president holds discussions with counterparts from UAE, Egypt, Jordan, as well as Moroccan prince; congratulates Rishi Sunak on assuming premiership
Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter
President Isaac Herzog met with key regional allies on the sidelines of the COP27 UN climate conference in Sharm el-Sheikh on Monday, among them the leaders of Egypt, Jordan, and the United Arab Emirates.
He also sat with new British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.
Herzog is leading the Israeli delegation after Prime Minister Yair Lapid canceled his participation in the event upon losing in elections last week to Benjamin Netanyahu.
Israel’s head of state landed in Egypt on Monday morning, where he was greeted on the tarmac by Egypt’s housing minister. Herzog was then welcomed by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi and United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres.
In the room set aside for dignitaries, Herzog met with leaders of Chad, Finland, the Czech Republic, Belgium, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Norway, according to his office.
He also spoke with Prince Moulay Rachid, second-in-line to the Moroccan throne.
Herzog sat with UAE President Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan and Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan to discuss climate cooperation and “regional developments” — often a euphemism for Iran.
The UAE and Israel signed the Abraham Accords in September 2020, establishing full diplomatic relations for the first time.
With Jordan’s King Abdullah, Herzog discussed trilateral cooperation between Israel, Jordan, and the United Arab Emirates on energy and water issues, as well as an initiative to clean portions of the Jordan River.
Last year, Israel, Jordan, and the UAE signed a major deal between the three nations to see a solar power plant built in Jordan by Emirati businesses to harness energy for Israel.
Herzog and Abdullah also discussed advancing bilateral relations, according to the president’s office.
With Netanyahu expected to return to the premiership, the president is set to be a key figure in the Israel-Jordan relationship. Ties became badly frayed during the last few years of Netanyahu’s tenure, and are likely to enter another chilly period with far-right leader Itamar Ben Gvir well-positioned to demand a ministerial portfolio. Going forward, Herzog could be the most acceptable senior Israeli leader for public meetings in Jordanian eyes.
Later in the afternoon, Herzog sat with Sunak, congratulating the Tory leader on becoming prime minister, calling him “a great friend of Israel” and describing the Israel-UK relationship as “one of the closest.”
Herzog said the pair “have so much to speak about — from climate change to economic development and cooperation, security challenges, and, of course, maintaining regional stability.”
Sunak thanked Herzog for the “very warm words,” and added that “Israel is one of our closest friends, our closest allies, and there is an enormous amount for us to continue working on together, whether it’s economic cooperation, security cooperation, or indeed climate change, that we’re here discussing. So I look forward to our time together.”
Accompanying Herzog at the summit are several outgoing ministers — Environmental Protection Minister Tamar Zandberg, Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton, Innovation, Science and Technology Minister Orit Farkash-Hacohen, and Regional Cooperation Minister Esawi Frej.
More than 90 heads of state and government, including US President Joe Biden, are scheduled to converge on the resort between November 6 and 18.
Herzog said before leaving for Egypt that in his speech Monday evening he would present an Israeli vision of what he called the “renewable Middle East,” in which “Israel and regional states will cooperate to provide major solutions for the climate crisis.”
“The climate is at the top of the State of Israel’s priorities,” he said. “It is connected to the future of our children and future generations. We must do everything to do our part to save humankind.”
The president, in a blog post for The Times of Israel, elaborated on his vision for regional cooperation on the climate.
Despite the president declaring that climate issues are a top priority, the delegation arrived without government backing for the country reaching net zero carbon emissions by 2050.
The Environmental Protection Ministry said last month that it had failed to officially anchor a verbal pledge made a year ago by then-prime minister Naftali Bennett to reach that goal.
Net zero refers to a situation in which a country reduces its emissions as much as possible and offsets what it still has to emit. This can be done by investing in projects that reduce emissions or that absorb carbon dioxide from the air and either use it in industry or convert it into a form that can be buried for a long time.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.