The usual disclaimer – these views do not necessarily reflect those of the Green Movement-Meimad. For the official party platform on Israeli-Palestinian relations, click here.
The vision of Israeli-Palestinian coexistence has taken a beating in the last few years, reaching bottom in the last couple weeks. Nonetheless, there are those who continue to see a common, cooperative future and are willing to work towards it, even in the midst of the current strife.
The following is written by my students of the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies in their course, “Introduction to Environmental Policy.” The recent violence in Gaza and southern Israel has weighed heavily on the students here – possibly the only place in Israel where Palestinian and Israeli students continue to look each other in the eye day-to-day and ponder their common present and future. Needless to say, their studies, as in the rest of Israel and Palestine, have been disrupted directly and indirectly by tragic current events. But here, uniquely, we are trying to use the event to strengthen our collective vision, rather than further divide.
Within the context of our pre-scheduled lecture on regional environmental policy (with guest lecturer, Green Movement-Meimad candidate Dr. Shmuel Brenner), I asked the students three questions regarding their vision of the future for the region, and how we we get from where we are now to where we want to be.
Is it crucial for Israelis and Palestinians work to cooperate on environmental issues and if so, why?
o Environmental resources and the damage we do to them do not stop at a political border; we share the same air and water; environmental damage on one side of the border harms the other as well.
o Environmental damage creates economic damage.
o Not dealing with our current environmental problems condemns future generations to deal with them.
o Good neighbors should support each other’s development. By cooperating, we foster a future leadership based on shared connections. By cooperating, we can become a model of coexistence for the world.
o While we have few natural resources, our human resources are among the best in the world. Our combined knowledge – applied cooperatively – can create a model of environmental progress.
o We all love land – otherwise we wouldn’t be fighting over it. And when peace comes, people will want a high quality of life and a clean environment.
Where do we want to go?
o We view the entire region as a single entity in terms of natural resources and waste. The whole region should be pictured as a small village with coordinated environmental management and policies. Such policies should strengthen both sides’ governments through cooperation (positive reinforcement).
o The more technologically and economically advanced neighbor should assist the other towards proper environmental management and technologies.
o Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) need to be placed in the spotlight and funded more, so that people know that these groups are doing things that governments have failed to do (like cooperation and trust-building activities). We should create more places like this [The Arava Institute].
o The entire population should be involved in environmental projects.
o Resources should be divided between nations based on need and according to proportional representation in the population.
How do we get from here to there?
o Stop all of the violence immediately.
o Initial steps: Educating people, raising awareness of how pollution is a shared problem. A political and legal recognition of the environmental problems of the other side, and how each nation’s problems affect the other nation. Neutral international organizations (e.g. the World Bank) should be responsible for mediating fines and other deterrents to prevent cross-border pollution. Pollution control should be prioritized as an important focus for cooperation between Israel and Palestine.
o Intermediate steps: Supply each other with the technological means to deal with environmental problems. Share information. Open the border – figuratively and literally. Create jobs on both sides through training programs for dealing with environmental problems. Start negotiations. Promote small scale shared projects. Start programs to use skilled gained through training programs. Begin planning for large scale projects and policies. Israel and Palestine should work within the same environmental policy framework and follow the same environmental standards.
o Long term steps: Apply long term plan and large scale projects. Continued education to keep people involved. Improve and develop the projects that have been started and maintain their progress. Expand regional cooperation to the entire region (Middle East and Europe and Africa).
Even though the students may disagree regarding the causes of the current violence, their answers show commitment to a shared future marked by equity and cooperation. It may be perceived as naïve in today’s political climate, but it is also a sign of optimistic light in an otherwise dark reality.