The greening of Palestine

Encountering Peace: The Palestinian path to independence should include as much energy independence as possible.

By
June 20, 2011 22:24
Gershon Baskin.

baskin 58. (photo credit: Courtesy)

Palestine may soon become the newest nation on the planet.

Within half a decade, it could easily become a leader in renewable energy. Imagine using “Google Earth” to view Palestine and zooming in on the Tubas region in the northern West Bank, or the Jericho area, and seeing fields of solar panels producing electricity for Palestinian consumers. Imagine zooming in on Gaza’s coastline and seeing rows of large wind turbines providing energy for the reconstruction of Gaza and the development of new towns, housing projects, schools and factories. This is not just a empty dream – it is a vision that could be made real.

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Today Palestine is almost 100-percent dependent on Israel for its electricity. There is a small generating capacity in Gaza, and almost none in the West Bank. Palestinian planners hope that someday a gas pipeline will reach the Jenin area from Israel. They also hope they will be able to exploit the natural gas field off the shores of Gaza. I have cautioned Palestinian planners that the gas pipeline from the coast to Jenin will probably take a decade because of the difficulties it will face from Israeli bureaucracy and public objection. Likewise, with Hamas in control of Gaza and Gilad Schalit still in captivity, the Gaza gas field will remain undeveloped.

For the next several years, renewable energy will remain more costly than that produced from fossil fuels. Israel relies on fossil fuels for its electricity needs; the Palestinian energy demand is an extra burden on Israeli production, which is already over-burdened with its own rapidly increasing needs. To meet the latter demand, and in the name of diversification of energy sources in Israel, talk of another coal-burning plant is not completely off the agenda, although it is more likely that another natural gas-burning plant will be constructed.

Israel is incredibly slow in advancing renewables, mainly because the Finance Ministry continues to place obstacles to progress in this field due to its immediate higher costs. The boys in the Finance Ministry have a lack of vision regarding Israel’s potential to lead the world in renewables. They too-quickly dismiss the non-immediate cost benefits, which are added value to the economy and to the public’s health, from the exploitation of the country’s abundant natural sunlight.

Palestinian professionals should be wiser. Palestine’s path to independence should include as much energy independence as possible. With the small size of the current Palestinian economy, it is quite possible to advance both solar and wind energy at a time when the international community is willing to provide financial support. A whole new vocation can be developed: the training of young people in the design, development and maintenance of solar power fields. These young people will find lots of jobs in putting Palestine on the renewable-energy map. The international community, including the wealthy Arab Gulf states, can provide soft loans and grants to enable the generation of at least 300 megawatts (almost 50% of the current needs) from the sun. The same sun that today provides hot water to almost every home in the West Bank can also produce electricity.

There are several locations in the West Bank where generating electricity from wind is likely. Wind testing that produces “bankable” results takes a full year. There is no time to waste – wind tests should be started immediately. Eventually offshore wind testing should be conducted along Gaza’s coast and, if proven feasible, wind turbines can generate hundreds of megawatts of natural electricity for Gaza beyond its beautiful coastline.

The Palestinian Authority advanced its ability to govern with great strides through the building of state institutions. This is the first prerequisite for forming a state. The rule of law, cooperate governance, transparency and the accountability of the government to its people are the basics of economic development. Like Israel, Palestine has almost no natural resources. Here and there, the engine of economic growth must be human ingenuity.

The development of Palestine’s human resources should be its No. 1 investment. Following that, economic growth is dependent on infrastructure – roads, mass transit, access to ports, and communications – and the fuel for all of that is energy.

Palestine now enjoys the highest per-capita financial support in modern history. The international community will continue to provide generous support on the condition that violence does not once again show its ugly face. The generosity of the world will increase if Palestine adopts models of development that can be the envy of the rest of the planet. Imagine if developed countries in the West could start all over and do away with the polluting industries that poisoned their rivers and air. Imagine if they could develop clean sources of energy from the start. Palestine can.

Palestine can be green (and not in the sense of the Hamas flag).

It can set a new standard for the economic development of young states. It has the human capital: young, educated, motivated and driven people who want to advance themselves and their country. A green wave can bring a new spirit of mission and conviction.

It is true that the green revolution will not resolve the Israeli- Palestinian conflict – that must be done through negotiations backed and facilitated by the international community. But there is no reason to wait for full statehood to build a green Palestine.

One of the beauties of this idea is that it’s not dependent on Israel.

That has to be good for both sides.

Green energy means energy independence for an independent Palestine. Once Palestine achieves this, it can speak with its neighbors (including Israel) about energy interdependence. By that time, Palestine could and should be a leader in renewable energy.

The writer is co-CEO of IPCRI, the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information (www.ipcri.org), which is advancing renewable energy in Palestine.


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