To say that the Israeli-Palestinian, Israeli-Arab conflict has been an intractable element of international politics is an understatement along the lines of saying that George the W’s Administration hasn’t been weak on Global Warming. It is hard to state these sad truths wrongly enough.
Sadly, the United States’ ability to be a positive player in seeking to achieve a more positive set of relationships within the Middle East has been distorted through a defining of “pro-Israeli” too often in a way that represents only a very narrow spectrum of Israeli opinion and in a way that too often is likely to be undercutting long-term Israeli & US interests. Just formed/announced, J-Street seeks to change this equation.
“For too long, the loudest ‘pro-Israel’ voices in this country have been those on the far-right,” says Jeremy Ben Ami, who today announced the launch of J Street—the first PAC with a corresponding lobby to give pro-peace, pro-Israel Americans a voice in American politics and in the policy process.
Now, rather than filling one in on the policy agenda items and getting into the “I-P” conflict in some detail, let us talk about an arena that is not explicitly one of the ten “policy issues” but perhaps should be: how Energy Smart concepts could fit into fostering a more secure and more peaceful Middle East: for Israelis, Palestinians, other Arabs, and America(ns).
This discussion will only touch the tip of the iceberg of potential. And, to be clear, the concept that sustainable energy could transform the prospect for Middle Eastern peace is far from original with this author. (Not even a start of a taste … Re-Thinking the Mediterranean; Environmental NGOs & Palestinian-Israeli Cooperation; etc …) In the face of Peak Oil, amid Global Warming, and the reality of ever heightened tensions, the ’sustainability’ path might be core to finding a path toward sustainable peace in the region.
Let us postulate a few things. Whether state creation myth or otherwise, Israel has:
- Successfully “greened” the desert and conducted significant reforestration;
- Developed advances in desert agricultural techniques that, at times and in places, they have ‘exported’, with technical assistance, to other nations/societies;’
- Have deployed renewable energy (especially solar hot water) and have companies that are leading edge in some renewable energy domains.
And, much like the Jewish Diaspora, a good number of Palestinians (in diaspora and otherwise) have found solace and opportunity in the pursuit of education, including technical and engineering education. If Israel/Israelis have been leading edge in some technical domains and in desert agriculture, if the bridges can be made, Palestinians could be strong partners for strengthening that technology and ‘exporting’ technology/techniques through a large swath of the world.
But, what are some of these visions and techniques. Why should they matter?
Let’s take a look, for a moment, at Desertrec/TREC, a European vision for a renewable energy project that would link from Iceland to Saudi Arabia. One of the core technologies to be used would be concentrated solar thermal power (CSTP) for generating electricity. CSTP, which is getting a bit of attention (for reason), has the potential for quite serious benefits beyond just the cleanly generated electricity:
- Desalinization of water as a ‘by-product’ of electrical power generation
- Shaded areas under the mirrors of CSP plants are protected from the full glare of harsh tropical sunlight and may be used for many purposes, including horticulture using desalinated sea water.
Rather relying on oil or other polluting sources for electricity, from Saudi Arabia through Morocco (including Israel), imagine CSTP providing the electrical power. Imagine the jobs that would be created to build and operate the systems. Imagine, the farmland that could be created with the water coming from these plants. Imagine this as a path toward reduced tensions.
Imagine, if … Imagine if a leadership stepped forward within Israel (prompted by friends of Israel, like J-Street) to foster CSTP electrical power generation in the Gaza strip, providing not just reliable non-polluting energy but also a source for fresh water and good jobs. To provide not just electricity, but also a building block toward sustainability, including toward sustainable piece.
Will Israeli security be better served through an ever greater impoverishment of Palestinian populations or through fostering a path toward economic betterment among those with whom Israelis (eventually?) want to have peace?
And, for the globe, in the face of Peak Oil and Global Warming and conflict, would not paths for renewable power through this part of the globe, renewable power that means more than just electricity, be a fruitful path to pursue.
CSTP is not the only thing to consider. Sustainable agricultural (see Greening the Desert)practices to reclaim desert land. The adoption of biochar to foster ever-healthier (and productive) soil while sequestering carbon. The creation of a region-wide smart grid (a la TREC) to foster ever-greater efficiency in use of energy and the ability to move energy efficiently across the region to help cover intermittency of power.
J-Street offers a vision for a more productive American Jewish community engagement when it comes to the Arab-Israel conflict. Adopted some additional concepts could make this an Energy Smart vision that would help foster reduced Arab-Israeli tensions while also helping the globe navigate through the perfect the perfect storm of Peak Oil and Global Warming.
PS: J-Street is getting some attention. See, for example, this thoughtful post at Scholars and Rogues.