Encountering Peace: The sunshine over the horizon

Cancelation of gas deal with Israel is another sad benchmark in the deterioration of bilateral relations.

BEDUIN man looks at a gas pipeline in Sinai 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
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 solution.
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 vast.
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.
Israeli inventors 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 energy fields.
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.