Israel has portrayed pre-1948 Palestine as an empty, parched desert, and has suggested that after the establishment of the state of Israel that parched desert became a blooming oasis. For Israel and its supporters, what surrounds that oasis is a fearsome, degraded, and arid Middle East that is sinking in primitiveness and backwardness. Israel’s green image, which is set in contrast to a savage and undemocratic Middle East, has been central to its efforts to greenwash its settler-colonial and apartheid structure. Israel uses its expertise in agribusiness, afforestation, water solutions, and renewable energy technology as constituents of its greenwashing efforts and narrative globally.
The assertion of the environmental superiority of Israel over the rest of the Middle East (and North Africa) was reinforced after it signed the Abraham Accords with the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain, Morocco, and Sudan in 2020. The Abraham Accords are a US-brokered normalization deal that also seeks to reinforce (already-existing) normalizing relations with other Arab countries that are not officially part of the agreement, including those that have not yet formalized their long-standing relations with Israel, like Saudi Arabia and Oman, and those that have, like Egypt and Jordan. The coalition of these Arab states formed under the umbrella of the Abraham Accords has vowed to increase their collaboration with Israel on issues related to security, the economy, health, culture, and the environment, among others. In the last two years, under the deal, Israel and these normalizing Arab states have signed a number of memorandums of understanding (MoUs) to jointly implement environmental projects concerning renewable energy, agribusiness and water.
The Palestinian Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions National Committee (BNC), which is working to end international complicity with Israeli oppression, defines normalization as “participation in any project, initiative or activity, local or international that brings together (on the same platform) Palestinian (and/or Arabs) and Israelis (individuals and institutions).”
The BNC elaborates that spaces of normalization do not meet the conditions set by the BNC concerning the Palestinian right to self-determination, dismantling Israel’s three-layered system of oppression (settler colonialism, apartheid, and military occupation), and the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes as enshrined in United Nations Resolution 194. Israel uses normalization to naturalize its apartheid settler colonialism. In this vein, the Palestinian think tank Al-Shabaka observes that so-called environmentally friendly collaborative projects between Israel and Arab states are a form of eco-normalization. Eco-normalization is the use of “environmentalism” to greenwash and normalize Israeli oppression, and the environmental injustices resulting from it in the Arab region and beyond.
On November 8, 2022, during the twenty-seventh United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP27) in Sharm El-Sheikh in Egypt, Jordan and Israel signed a UAE-brokered MoU to continue a feasibility study on two interlinked projects, called Prosperity Blue and Prosperity Green, which together constitute Project Prosperity. According to the terms of the agreement, Jordan will buy two-hundred million cubic meters of water annually from an Israeli water desalination station, which will be established on the Mediterranean coast (Prosperity Blue). The water desalination station will use power produced by a six hundred megawatt (MW) solar photovoltaic plant that will be constructed in Jordan (Prosperity Green) by Masdar, a UAE state-owned renewable energy company. The parties to the agreement intend to submit more concrete plans regarding the implementation of the projects at COP28, to be held in the UAE in 2023.
The idea of Project Prosperity was first proposed by EcoPeace Middle East, an Israeli-Jordanian-Palestinian nongovernmental organization that promotes environmental normalization between the three parties, within the framework of the “Green Blue Deal for the Middle East,” an initiative that claims to address water and energy issues in Israel, Palestine, and Jordan. Although Palestine is a party to this deal, it has no role in Project Prosperity.
In another development, a few months ahead of COP27, in August 2022, Jordan joined Morocco, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain, and Oman in signing an MoU with two Israeli energy companies to implement renewable energy projects in these countries. Enlight Renewable Energy (ENLT) and NewMed Energy (henceforth ENLT-NewMed), the two Israeli companies involved in this enormous energy project, will initiate, finance, construct, develop, and operate renewable energy plants on Arab lands. These “green” energy projects will include wind and solar energy production and energy storage. While ENLT specializes in renewable energy projects, NewMed is a natural gas and oil company, and both, though particularly NewMed, play a key role in strengthening normalization ties with Arab states through both fossil fuel–based and green energy deals.
Prosperity Blue: Israel Quenches Parched Jordan
A decades-long water crisis in Jordan has deepened in recent years. Mainstream media suggest the reason for this is the increasing number of Syrian and Iraqi refugees Jordan hosts, in addition to the climate crisis. Indeed, the influx of refugees who have fled imperialist wars waged against their countries has rendered Jordan incapable of meeting the rising demand for water. However, placing the blame solely on Syrian and Iraqi refugees for the worsening water shortage without highlighting the root cause of that shortage — Israeli usurpation of Jordan’s water — is racist and xenophobic. It also deflects attention from Israel’s role in making Jordan a parched country. For decades, Israel has depleted Jordan’s water resources to achieve economic and political gains in the region. The greenwashing framings of Prosperity Blue in Israeli and Western media outlets absolve Israel of its responsibility for the water crisis in Jordan.
Following the signing of the MoU for Project Prosperity in 2022, the Times of Israel commented that
Jordan is one of the world’s most water-deficient nations. The nation . . . faces dire water prospects as its population expands and temperatures rise. Israel is also a hot, dry country, but its advanced desalination technology has opened opportunities for selling freshwater.
This statement reflects the core of Israel’s greenwashing narrative of environmental benevolence and stewardship. Israel has always depicted itself as a dry country which, despite this, and unlike its (Arab) neighbors, has developed the technology needed to efficiently manage its scarce water resources and mitigate the climate crisis. In the last two decades, Israel has exalted its advanced water technology and celebrated its success in water desalination. According to this narrative, as an “environmental altruist,” Israel always seeks to put its technology at the service of its parched neighbor (Jordan), even during times of tension between the two countries. This view is reflected in a 2021 comment published in the Hill, apropos of Project Prosperity:
Israel and Jordan have a long history of collaborating on water, even amid political tensions. Ever since the 1994 Israel-Jordan Peace Treaty, Israel has been storing some of the kingdom’s Jordan River allocations in the Sea of Galilee, and discharging the supplies as needed.
This is false. Israel has not been “storing” some of the kingdom’s “allocations” in the Sea of Galilee: rather, it has been plundering Jordan’s share of water from the Jordan and Yarmouk rivers, against the expressed will of Jordan (and this was especially so in the past). Nor has Israel discharged “the supplies as needed” — rather, it continues to hoard Jordan’s usurped water.
It is thus clear that the innocent and benevolent rhetoric behind Prosperity Blue hides Israel’s role in looting Palestinian and Arab water. Instead of appropriating and commodifying water, in the form of selling it to Jordan, Israel should give the usurped water it continues to hoard back to Jordan. Far from doing so, through Prosperity Blue, Israel denies its responsibility for water scarcity in Jordan and claims to be offering a solution, portraying itself as an environmental steward and a regional water power.
Vanquishing the (Arab) Heart of Darkness
The two renewable energy projects on the eco-normalization agenda, Prosperity Green and ENLT-NewMed, bolster the image of Israel as a hub for creative renewable energy technologies. In upraising Israel in this regard, the mainstream narrative omits that its innovations in the energy sector are predicated on (green) energy colonialism in Palestine and the Jawlan. Energy colonialism refers to foreign companies and countries plundering and exploiting the resources and land of countries and communities in the Global South to generate energy for their use and benefit. Perpetuating the North/South dichotomy, energy colonialism also wreaks havoc on the socioeconomic life of local populations in the South, along with their environments.
Green energy colonialism includes the appropriation and plunder of green sources of energy while maintaining the same political, economic and social structures of power asymmetry between the North and the South. Energy colonialism is ingrained in the colonial capitalist paradigm of power, exploitation, dehumanization, and otherness, and persists decades after many parts of the world entered the postcolonial era. In Palestine and the Jawlan, energy colonialism, including through green sources of energy, is one facet of Israeli settler colonialism. Israel employs it as a means, among others, to dispossess and ghettoize Palestinians and Jawlanis (the twenty-six thousand Syrians currently living in the Israeli-occupied Jawlan) in ever-smaller enclaves, while expanding Israeli-Jewish supremacy on their land. Both Prosperity Green and ENLT-NewMed can also be seen as energy colonialist projects that enable Israel to continue its settler -colonial project and geopolitical power in the Middle East and North Africa, under cover of a greenwashing narrative.
According to the terms of Prosperity Green, Jordan will sell to Israel all the electricity generated from the solar farm to be built on its land, for $180 million per year. The proceeds will be split between the Jordanian government and Masdar, the Emirati firm that will build the solar farm. The rationale is that Israel will not need to use its energy to operate the water desalination station that will supply Jordan with two hundred million cubic meters of water annually. This is part of the Israeli goal of strengthening both its energy and water desalination sectors. Water desalination, which Israel seeks to rely on as its main source of water by 2030, is energy intensive, accounting for 3.4 percent of its energy consumption. Israel is thus seeking to increase its access to alternative sources of energy, with Prosperity Green offering one such source.
The deal does not allow Jordan, whose imports of fossil gas account for 75 percent of its energy sources, to receive energy from the project and to leverage its own energy sector. Thus, while the country’s solar energy will be extracted, its heavy reliance on imported fossil gas will remain. Jordan will continue to receive gas from Israel, which since 2020, after the infamous 2014 gas agreement was struck between the two countries, has become a major exporter of fossil gas to the country. According to the $10 billion deal, Leviathan, a natural gas field in the Mediterranean over which Israel exercises control, will supply Jordan with sixty billion cubic meters of gas over fifteen years. Thus, Jordan will remain hostage to imports of natural gas (particularly from Israel), while it exports its own green energy in order to receive desalinated water from Israel!
In the way it is designed to empower Israel’s renewable energy sector while maintaining Jordan’s reliance on Israeli fossil energy sources, Prosperity Green is a form of energy colonialism — or, more specifically, green colonialism. This is clear in the fact that the solar farm will be built in Jordan rather than in Israel. Consider this 2021 quote from Axios, an American news website: “The logic was that Israel needs renewable energy but lacks the land for massive solar farms, which Jordan has.” This is echoed by Karine Elharrar, previously Israeli energy minister:
Jordan, which has abundance of open spaces and sunlight, will help advance the state of Israel’s transition to green energy and to achieve the ambitious goals we have set, and Israel, which has an excellent desalination technology, will help tackle Jordan’s water shortage.
This hierarchical categorization of the land, where the desert is perceived as inferior to (superior) cultivated/green land, is informed by the Zionist discourse, which portrays the creation of Israel on the ruins of hundreds of destroyed Palestinian villages as redeeming the land. Such discourse seeks to legitimize and moralize Israel’s actions: it depicts Israel as a moral and progressive steward of land efficiency, rather than an immoral settler-colonial and apartheid regime.
ENLT-NewMed is also portrayed as demonstrating Israeli environmental and moral superiority over its Arab neighbors, including Jordan. After reaching an agreement to develop energy projects with Jordan, Morocco, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain, and Oman, ENLT stated that the project “will bring to light the great experience and expertise of the two Israeli companies in the field of energy.” Bringing to light the “experience” and “expertise” of Israel keeps in the dark the experiences of Palestinian and Jawlani struggles against Israeli energy colonialism.
Although ENLT-NewMed presents itself as helping to meet the energy needs of seven Arab countries, it too should be understood as an act of energy colonialism, for two main reasons. First, ENLT-NewMed aims to further integrate Israel in the Arab region’s economic and energy spheres, in a dominant position, thereby creating new dependencies (via energy access and control) that further the normalization agenda and position Israel as an indispensable partner.
Second, it will allow ENLT and NewMed, two companies that are deeply involved in Israeli energy projects, to normalize and finance their colonial activities in occupied Palestine and the Jawlan. ENLT operates several renewable energy projects in the Jawlan, with the support of the Israeli government, including Emek Habacha, Ruach Beresheet, and Emek Haruchot. ENLT has a 41 percent and a 60 percent stake, respectively, in the first two of these, which are funded by a consortium led by Bank Hapoalim, listed in the United Nations database of businesses and companies that are complicit in the illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank. ENLT is also involved in renewable energy projects in illegal West Bank settlements. It is developing a forty-two MW wind turbine project (in which it holds a 50.15 percent stake) in Yatir Forest, which is located in the Naqab Desert and parts of the West Bank.
Eco-normalization allows Israel to (re)configure its position in both the energy and water sectors regionally and globally, thereby reinforcing its political and diplomatic power in the region and worldwide. With the exacerbating climate and energy crises, countries reliant on Israeli energy and water (as well as technology) may start to see the Palestinian struggle as a matter of less importance than their water and energy security. This makes eco-normalization reinforce the role of Israeli greenwashing as a moneymaking machine for Israeli companies while undermining a just agricultural and energy transition in Palestine, inextricably linked to the Palestinian struggle for self-determination.
Mekorot, a major player in Israeli water desalination, has been able to position itself as a leader in water desalination and solutions globally, partly through Israel’s greenwashing narrative. For example, Mekorot is responsible for 40 percent of Cyprus’s seawater desalination. Its technology and “expertise” generate millions of dollars in revenue from water solutions projects developed across the world, particularly in the Global South. This money finances its, and the Israeli government’s, practice of water apartheid against the Palestinian people. Besides usurping the Jordan River, Mekorot plays a significant role in building Israeli water apartheid infrastructure. It controls most of the Palestinian water resources in the West Bank and diverts them to illegal Israeli settlements.
The company’s infrastructure of wells and bypass pipelines is built in such a way as to ensure that Palestinians living in Area C of the West Bank have no access to water, while, at the same time, it helps the Israeli military confiscate Palestinian water pipelines and other alternative means to access water in Area C. By practicing water apartheid, Mekorot creates a coercive environment that aims to force Palestinians from their land and expand Israeli illegal settlements.
The same story is seen in the blockaded Gaza Strip, where, for decades, Israel has been destroying the agricultural sector. Since 2007, the siege of Gaza has restricted Palestinian farmers’ access to their agricultural land and has exacerbated the severe water crisis in the strip. This entrenching of Israeli energy colonialism and apartheid is also evident in the greenwashing functions of huge projects like Prosperity Green and ENLT-NewMed. Israel denies the colonized Palestinians (and Jawlanis) sovereignty over their energy resources and perpetuates their captivity to its energy market. Israeli control over Palestinian and Jawlani energy resources is an effective tool of settler colonial dispossession and oppression.
At the same time, the Gaza Strip, lying not far away from the Leviathan and Tamar gas fields, has been living in darkness for years due to Israel’s denial of Gazans’ full access to electricity. Electricity, water, violence, and a myriad of other tools are part of the Israeli settler-colonial mechanisms that are used to “manage” and control Palestinians in the designated ghettos. Eco-normalizing and greenwashing energy projects provide Israel with financial aid to consolidate its ghettoization policies in respect of millions of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and beyond.
The Palestinian energy market more widely is held captive by Israel. Palestinians inhabiting Area C of the occupied West Bank bear the brunt of Palestinian energy dependence on Israel: they are denied access to the electricity grid in the area, which has been developed by Israel to serve Israeli illegal settlements. Israel also refuses to issue Palestinians with permits to construct solar panels, which could provide an alternative source of energy. Palestinians are thus forced to build solar panels (often funded by NGOs and the EU) without Israeli permits, which Israel then uses as a pretext to confiscate and demolish them. Between 2001 and 2016, Israeli policies and practices in Area C caused Palestinians an estimated loss of sixty-five million euros, in relation to EU-funded support, including solar installations. The solar energy sector in Area C has been established by Palestinian civil society in order to reinforce the steadfastness of communities in the area, and Israel uses its de-development as a tactic to forcibly displace them.
There is an abiding connection between Israeli greenwashing, which is reinforced through eco-normalization, and the consolidation of apartheid and settler colonialism in Palestine and the Jawlan. As demonstrated above, eco-normalization is socially and environmentally unjust and unsustainable as it obstructs energy democracy and food sovereignty, and any attempt to achieve a just energy and agricultural transition in Palestine and the Jawlan. With increasing Israeli violence and settler-colonial expansion in the occupied Palestinian territories, the Palestinian anti-colonial struggle is at a critical juncture. The dark tunnel that is Palestinians’ life under Israeli oppression is getting darker. Yet a glimpse of light can be seen that illuminates the Palestinians’ long path to liberation: that light is the increasing resistance of the Palestinian people, who refuse to be isolated, dehumanized, and obliterated. The struggle to topple Israel’s oppressive regime is also part of the wider struggle for self-determination and emancipation of other peoples across the world. Colonial attempts to further isolate Palestine from the rest of the (Arab) world through (eco-)normalization can be thwarted by the collectively enacted power of Arabs and other peoples.
To this end, social movements, environmental groups, trade unions, student associations, and civil society organizations in the Arab region and beyond must intensify their protests against their governments until they end their normalization ties with Israel. Alternative media outlets should challenge mainstream media, which render Palestine invisible and irrelevant to the struggle of Arab (and non-Arab) peoples. Both individuals and institutions, especially in the Arab region, should be more vigilant regarding cultural, academic, social, and environmental projects and initiatives: before engaging in them, they should investigate their sources of funding, their participants, and their agenda. Environmental movements can also support the Palestinian struggle for self-determination by centering and valuing eco-sumud (“steadfastness”) as an indigenous knowledge that can inform solutions to, and strategies to mitigate, the climate crisis. Finally, international grassroots movements should increase their support for boycott, divestment, and sanctions against Israel.