As Middle East is grappling with tragic events, the prospects of Arab-Israeli normalization seem bleak. The devastating terrorist acts committed by Hamas on October 7, which some likened to the deadliest day for the Jewish people since the Holocaust, have raised the concerns about the wider conflict and have led to Saudi Arabia freezing normalization talks with Israel. In addition, Iran’s call for Arab nations to unite against Israel has added to the uncertainty.
Despite these geopolitical challenges, it is crucial to remember that the incentive behind Arab-Israeli normalization remains strong. The potential economic benefits for the signatory countries are significant. According to a study by RAND corporation, bilateral trade agreements between these nations could yield close to $70 billion in combined potential benefits. For Arab signatories, this could lead to a potential GDP growth up to 0.8%. This is only with the current signatories. The same study predicts that if the deal expands to include ten nations, it could generate $1 trillion in new economic activity over a decade.
Looking beyond the countries that have normalized the relations with Israel in the context of the Abraham Accords, Israel has launched groundbreaking solar, wind, and storage projects in seven Arab counties, including Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Oman, the UAE, Jordan, Morocco, and Egypt. Furthermore, just this summer, Israeli Solar Edge formed a unique solar venture with Saudi Arabian firm Ajlan & Bros Holding, one of the largest private sector conglomerates in the Middle East and North Africa, to develop renewable energy infrastructure in the Kingdom.
The impact of normalization has not been limited to international cooperation. The Israeli Energy Ministry announced an $8 million plan to boost renewable energy projects in Arab municipalities within Israel. Some have linked Israeli efforts to address inequality in its society to the Accords, as Israel has a strategic interest in improving the status of Israeli Arabs.
Despite the setback caused by the recent attacks, there is still hope for the progress made in Arab-Israeli relations. While negotiations on normalization are currently on hold, Israel will engage in diplomatic discussions with Arab nations, including Saudi Arabia, during the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28), hosted by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) at the end of this month.
The UAE’s COP28 presidency has an ambitious policy agenda that emphasizes the transition away from fossil fuels, even though UAE is a significant oil producing country. The summit will address overlooked issues, such as the impact of the green transition on the regions without existing infrastructure to shift away from fossil fuels. The UAE also has concrete plans to promote the green transition, including $300 billion in projects expected to be executed this year and a seven-year goal to triple renewable energy capacity.
Regarding Israeli-Arab cooperation, the summit provides a unique opportunity for both Israel and Arab nations to build on the progress in clean energy. COP28 President Sultan Al Jaber’s call to triple renewable energy capacity and decarbonize the oil industry aligns with the interests of Israel and Arab states. The all face severe climate change impacts, are oil and gas producers, and seek to diversify their energy sources and embrace future technologies.
With over half of Israel’s terrain being desert, the potential for solar energy is immense. While solar energy currently contributes to less than 10% of Israel’s energy, the Israeli government aims to increase this to 30% by 2030, with a 20% target by the end of 2025, potentially adding €2 billion to the economy annually.
Each country in the region possesses significant solar energy potential, and by working together to accelerate clean energy transition and phase out fossil fuels, they can realize mutual economic gains. Recognizing these opportunities, COP28 may not only contribute to a new viable climate deal, but also reignite Israeli-Arab normalization efforts against all odds.
It is worth noting that this year’s COP28 is scheduled to take place in Dubai from November 30 to December 12. The world is watching closely to see whether the summit will lead to the strategic decisions and changes needed to meet the objectives of the Paris Agreement.