Davos Forum, climate cooperation in the Middle East takes shape
The Middle East could be a surprise at this week’s World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on “Cooperation in a Divided World.” Diplomatic and economic progress has been made since the signing of the Abraham Accords between Israel and a number of Muslim countries.
In December 2020, two months after the signing of the Ibrahim Accords, Israeli water extraction company Watergen signed a partnership agreement with Abu Dhabi-based multinational Al Dahra.. Watergen freshwater production devices have since proliferated in the United Arab Emirates. The deal was notable both for its timing and the parties involved.
Watergen has since signed half a dozen similar deals, including a plan to produce hydrogen in Morocco and a U.S.-backed, Emirati-financed deal with Jordan to sell solar power to Israel in exchange for fresh water.
A record number of these countries are expected to visit Davos, where the talks are seen as a springboard for the COP28 summit to be held in Dubai next year. The Emirates also recently signed a first-of-its-kind deal to buy Israeli-made air defense systems. Israel’s Haifa University and UAE’s Zayed University have signed an academic cooperation partnership for joint research on environmental issues.
Tourism was supposed to be a positive outcome of the Ibrahim agreement, but it was the Israelis who were most eager to visit their new “friends” in the Gulf. Over the past two years, 500,000 Israelis have visited the Emirates, however, enthusiasm for visiting Israel in the Gulf countries is more mixed.
The Gulf countries are surprised to discover that decades of research, Israel’s environmental technologies can be paid for with petrodollars. In 2021, a tripartite agreement “against energy and water” was signed between Israel, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates. As part of a plan with the help of the US State Department, Emirati-backed renewable energy company Masdar will build a large solar power plant in Jordan that will generate electricity to be sold to Israel.
At the same time, Israel will sell fresh water from its desalination plants to Jordan, where water shortages are worsening due to climate change and population growth. As in the Emirates, desalination is energy intensive, but importing desalinated water from Israel is cheaper and less environmentally demanding for Jordan, a poor country without large-scale desalination plants.
Although Jordan and Israel established diplomatic relations in 1994, their relations have deteriorated since the 1979 peace accord, as did Israel’s with Egypt. In particular, the ongoing stalemate on the Palestinian issue has hindered cooperation, bilateral or multilateral agreements.
Daniel Weiner, vice president for global affairs at the University of Connecticut and founder of post-Abraham Accord cooperation programs, believes that “the UAE can play a key intermediary role and complicate cooperation projects between Jordan and Israel.” Still in the dynamics of the Abraham Accords, an important contract was signed last November between Israel’s hydrogen production company H2Pro and Gaia Energy in Morocco. H2Pro plans to build a green hydrogen production facility powered by wind and abundant light from Morocco. Hydrogen will be exported to Europe for industrial use.
H2Pro and Morocco will initially build a small-scale test facility in Morocco, but will expand production capacity as the green hydrogen market grows in Europe. A recent McKinsey survey claims that global demand will increase more than sevenfold by 2050.
For H2Pro and other Israeli companies, the deals could open up markets not only in the region, but also in Asia, India, China and beyond.
The Abraham Accords allowed countries and companies that were enemies yesterday to cooperate and above all to do so without hiding. However, the agreements will be able to multiply and become the norm only if the Palestinian issue comes out of the conflict. And it does not depend only on Israel.