Energy, Water and National Infrastructures Minister Silvan Shalom aims to see a permanent Israeli delegate based in Abu Dhabi, as a representative to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) headquartered in the emirate, he told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday.
Shalom spoke with the Post on Sunday evening over the phone from Abu Dhabi, where he attended the IRENA Fourth Assembly on Saturday and Sunday, occurring in conjunction with Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week. Israel is one of 123 member states of IRENA, an intergovernmental organization focused on renewable energy development.
Although Kuwait decided to boycott the conference due to Israel’s presence, many other Muslim countries remained among the participants, including Iran and Iraq.
“We would like to have full representation here,” Shalom said. “Every country has a mission with diplomats who live here. When they came to the decision to move the headquarters to Abu Dhabi, they made sure with the authorities that they would give every country the option to be here – to be here not only for the convention but to be here permanently.”
Kuwait’s decision to abandon the conference occurred as a result of the country’s “commitment to boycott all forms of interaction with the Zionist regime,” the Kuwait Times quoted the Kuwaiti Electricity and Water Ministry as saying on Sunday.
Despite the Kuwaiti pullout, Shalom said he was pleasantly surprised to see that the other Muslim and Arab countries not only remained at the conference, but also stayed in the room to hear his address on Sunday.
“I was very surprised that they didn’t leave,” he said.
Although the delegates all stayed in the room, the head of the Iranian faction moved from his seat at the speakers’ table, according to Shalom.
“The Iranian minister with his delegation moved to the last row and left a junior delegate,” he said.
In addition, the conference organizers specially arranged the seats at the U-shaped table, which should have been in alphabetical order – with India, then Iran, then Iraq right-to-left on one leg, followed by Italy and then Israel on the adjacent perpendicular leg, Shalom explained.
“They changed the seats – you have to know that Iran is I-R and after that it should be Israel, I-S,” he said.
Nonetheless, the minister confirmed he was able to have one-on-one discussions with representatives of several of the Arab and Muslim countries present. He could not name which ones, however, as “they want to keep it confidential,” he said.
By speaking at the IRENA conference, Shalom followed in the footsteps of then-energy and water minister Uzi Landau, who traveled to a similar Abu Dhabi conference on January 16, 2010, becoming the first minister to visit the United Arab Emirates.
This is the first Israeli delegation visit to the UAE, with which Israel has no diplomatic ties, since the assassination of Hamas operative Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai on January 19, 2010.
While Israel never confirmed or denied involvement in the killing, the Dubai police chief afterward forbade all Israelis from entering the country, even those holding foreign passports.
“If Israel is a full member of IRENA and that takes place in Abu Dhabi, it’s inconceivable that we wouldn’t be able to go to that assembly,” Shalom’s spokesman told the Post prior to the conference.
Although the UAE admitted the Israeli delegation for the conference, Foreign Affairs Minister Anwar Mohammad Gargash stressed that the country will not be rushing to normalize relations “like some countries did,” according to a report by the Dubai-based Gulf News website.
“The UAE has been able, through a delicate balance, to differentiate between Israel’s membership in IRENA and the normalization of bilateral ties which Israel has been seeking,” Gargash wrote on Twitter, as cited by Gulf News. Gargash said criticism is being “instigated by those who hold resentment and hostility towards the UAE.”
In his speech, Shalom said he described how advanced Israel has become in the hi-tech sectors in general, as well as in the field of renewable energy development in particular. Providing an overview of Israel’s renewable energy history from the 1950s through today, Shalom said he explained that the government intends for 10 percent of the country’s energy supply to be based off renewable sources by 2020.
“We are moving ahead in order to achieve that goal,” he told the Post. “Even though we found gas – and usually when you have a big gas discovery like we have you might not need other sources – I said that on the contrary, we will do everything we have to support renewables.”
Shalom spoke to the IRENA delegates about the need to provide a balanced electricity tariff that attracts development yet decreases with the cheapening of equipment prices.
“I said Israel would love to cooperate – to give its knowledge and its experts in order to make it possible in the world to develop renewable energies, with the assistance of Israeli scientists and Israeli companies,” he added.
Reiterating the fact that Israel, a full member of IRENA, has no permanent delegate living in Abu Dhabi to represent the country at the organization, Shalom told the Post he is determined to see this situation remedied.
“There is no way that Israel will be kept out, and I talked with the American representative and the secretary-general and his staff,” he said. “I believe it will come to a positive decision.”
Ariel Ben Solomon contributed to this report.