Israel 2050 and the invisible Palestinians

Israel is looking ahead. The year 2050 is a central theme of the Ministry of the Environment, linking the destiny of Israel to the planet’s future. Climate experts predict a humanitarian disaster if we continue to burn fossil fuels, which are the main cause of global warming. The temperature has already risen one degree Celsius above the pre-industrial level (the year 1850), and an additional degree by century’s end will doom the earth.

On December 9, 2018, the United Nations will launch its 24th climate conference in Katowice, Poland. Many eyes are on this event, trusting that world leaders will take decisive steps. However, the debate goes on. US President Donald Trump denies global warming. Another absurdity is that the host country, Poland, refuses to close its fossil fuel (coal) power stations because they employ 110,000 coal miners. Germany likewise refuses to close them, for it employs many thousands in mining.

Israel is not indifferent to climate change. This week the third Israeli climate conference was held in Tel Aviv with about 500 participants. The attendance of NGOs, MKs, academics, directors-general, and government representatives, including Environment Minister Ze’ev Elkin, attests that a large part of the public takes interest in environmental issues. Although Israel is a tiny country and its influence on the climate is slight, its desire to contribute is clear. Its goal is to formulate a master plan that will respond to the challenges facing Israel in 2050.

Those who missed the third climate conference and want to learn more can attend a discussion entitled “Environment 2050”, which will be held in Tel Aviv on January 15, 2019. Industry leaders, senior government officials, heads of venture capital funds, start-ups, innovation managers, representatives of environmental organizations, academics, and citizens will participate. The race for 2050 has already begun, and all sectors want to be at the starting gate.

The problem is that while the world seeks to battle against a one-degree rise in temperature. Israel is grappling with an equally complex problem not raised at the third Israeli climate conference: In 2050, experts say, there will be 16 million Israelis. But what about the 10 million Palestinians next door in Gaza and the West Bank? How many of the 16 million Israelis will be settlers? What will happen in Gaza when the wells dry up and sewage flows freely? How much electricity will the Gazan power plants generate? How will the city of Jerusalem function with a million Palestinians (whose poverty rate even now is more than 70%)? What kind of transportation network will serve the 5 million West Bank Palestinians in 2050? As work gives way to robotics and artificial intelligence, will there be jobs for them? How many walls and fences will there have to be, and how high, to prevent desperate Palestinians from surging into Israel looking for jobs? Can the start-up nation continue to flourish when the surrounding region is poverty-stricken and backward?

The presence of Environmental Protection Minister Ze’ev Elkin at the third climate conference may signify a bold approach to the future, but that future is conceived as if there were no Palestinians. Elkin told the conference that Israel disagrees with Trump on climate change, but he neglected to say that it agrees with the American president on all other issues, including nationalistic ideology, xenophobia, and the Occupation. Elkin makes no secret of his views. What counts most is not what is good for the earth, but what is good for the Jews according to the Trumplike principle: Israel first.

Considering the precarious political situation, the question is where Israeli environmentalists stand—in other words, what happens to an enlightened Israeli civil society that wants to save humanity but has lost the courage to face local reality? During the 20 years of right-wing government, the word “Occupation” has become a shibboleth, used, in the view of the ruling coalition, by traitors. Proponents of Palestinian rights are perceived as extremists. Right-wingers like Elkin are prepared to act for the sake of the environment and in the same breath to deprive Palestinians of their rights.

Palestinians, like most of the poor and forgotten in the third world, are paying the price of globalization and neoliberal economics. They have no environmentalist movement. Their struggle to put bread on the table leaves little room for the welfare of the planet. They have already lost their country, and with it their dignity. It suffices to look at Gaza today to see what the future holds.

If the right-wing Zionist ideology continues to dictate Israel’s policy toward the Palestinians, Israel will be a footnote to history in 2050. However, if Israelis can have enough foresight to worry about the planet, then let them have enough to create a new political reality; they must see Palestinians as partners not only to save the planet but also to build a modern society for the benefit of both peoples.

Two worldviews are struggling over humanity’s fate. On the one hand, there is the racist nationalism of Trump and his supporters, both in Europe and Israel. On the other hand, there are those who support international solidarity. These consist of governments and movements that advocate cross-border cooperation for the benefit of humanity and the planet. Contemporary Zionism, in the form of both the ruling coalition and the opposition, has chosen to sidestep the Palestinian issue because an outdated national ideology leaves no room for compromise. Whoever wants to save Planet Earth must direct national interest toward a greater interest. Whoever wants there to be an Israel in 2050 must forgo the narrow national interest in favor of a common destiny for Israelis and Palestinians alike.

* Translated from the Hebrew by Robert Goldman

About Yacov Ben Efrat