BEDUIN man looks at a gas pipeline in Sinai 370.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The unilateral Egyptian decision to cancel the gas deal with Israel is another
sad benchmark in the deterioration of relations between Israel and its
neighbors. This cancelation is a clear violation of the agreement between the
two countries, which beyond its economic importance to both sides is a blow to
status of the peace between Israel and Egypt.
Egypt and Israel have never
enjoyed a warm peace since the signing of the treaty in 1979. The peace treaty
had three elements to it – the “peace for territory” aspect of Israeli
withdrawal from Sinai; the military aspect of the demilitarization of the Sinai
with a multinational force serving as a buffer and inspector; and the aspect of
Palestinian autonomy that President Sadat expected would lead to full
Israeli-Palestinian peace based on a two states for two peoples
The peace treaty greatly benefited both countries from the
beginning and continues to serve the interests of both sides to this day, even
without vast amounts of trade, joint ventures, cultural exchanges and tourism.
The peace treaty was not a favor of one side to the other; both sides needed it
then, as they still do today. The canceling of the gas deal is a bad omen for
Israeli-Egyptian peace. It should not be treated lightly and careful and
experienced diplomacy is the order of the day, through direct diplomatic
channels between the two sides, between the business interests involved and even
making use of the good offices of the United States.
One factor in
Egypt’s cancellation of the deal is its inability to guarantee the security of
the pipeline, which has been repeatedly blown up over the past year. In the past
113 days, gas has flowed only 25 days. The continued explosions along the
pipeline are a constant reminder to the authorities in Cairo of their inability
to provide control and security in Sinai.
Recent demonstrations by the
Beduin population in Sinai against the central government point to long years of
neglect of this part of Egyptian society. With the absence of law and order, the
tribes in Sinai have taken control and if the government in Cairo, whoever it is
ruling there, does not take back control, the economic impacts for Egypt will be
Not only in question are the losses of revenue from the sale of gas
to Israel and Jordan, but also the great losses of tourism revenue from the
billions of Egyptian pounds that have been invested in the tourism sector along
the coasts and in the high mountains.
While our diplomats focus on the
future of Israeli- Egyptian relations, perhaps we back home in Israel should
also use this moment to consider the immediate energy crisis loosed by the gas
shortage and finally come to terms with the major source of energy of which we
enjoy amazingly high abundance. I am not talking about the new gas fields off
the coast of Israel, which will take years and hundreds of millions of dollars
to develop. I am talking about the sun in the sky, which shines on us most days
of the year.
It is time for Israel to march forward on the path of energy
independence, which is green and under our control.
lead the way around the world in the development of new solar energy
technologies. They are being tested and used all around the world, but almost
none at home. The only thing stopping from Israel leading the world in renewable
energy are the policy bureaucrats in the Finance Ministry who blindly only the
see the immediate bottom line and not the whole picture of real costs to the
economy from the continued use of fossil fuels.
Along with the stubborn
bureaucrats are the petty, small-minded do-littles in the Israel Land Authority
who continuously block the use of open land in the Negev and the Arava for solar
There are even applications from Beduin tribes in the
Negev who would like to turn their large tracts of land from grazing for goats
to solar panels grazing the sun to produce electricity. Imagine all of the
“hasbara” value that could have for Israel.
What we need in this moment
of crisis is the energy to lead, and the leaders to capture the energy. The
privatesector entrepreneurs are ready to move the energy revolution forward with
amazing speed. Within a year Israeli solar entrepreneurs could be producing 1000
MW and more of new electricity which is clean, green, efficient and becoming
increasingly less expensive.
Yes, it is true that we will still have to
subsidize renewable energy. It has not yet reached grid parity when the price of
renewables will be equal to fossil fuels. But in the big picture it is already
completely economically viable.
How many millions will be lost this
summer because of power outages due to the lack of ability to meet demand? How
many sick days are spent at home with the increasing numbers of people suffering
from diseases such as asthma because of deteriorating air quality all around the
country? Some people have suggested that we allow the electric plants to burn
more cheap and dirty fuel this summer.
Are they absolutely crazy? How can
we be passive when bureaucrats are so willing to play with our public health –
that is, your health and my health, and the health of our children? With
Independence Day on the horizon, my wish for the coming year is to see a
government directive to achieve as much energy independence over the next year
as possible so that even if we don’t have Egyptian gas and even if we without
any of the new gas from the Mediterranean, we will have an abundance of energy
extracted from the power of the sun. So let the light shine on, and let’s turn
it into usable energy! The writer is the co-chairman of IPCRI, the Israel
Palestine Center for Research and Information, a columnist for The Jerusalem
Post, a radio host on All for Peace Radio and the initiator and negotiator of
the secret back channel for the release of Gilad Schalit.