Israel’s participation in the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) conference on Saturday in the UAE has sparked off widespread protests on social networking sites. The Kuwait Ministry of Electricity and Water withdrew its participation in the conference in protest at Israel’s presence. “It is a step in a normalisation process imposed on us as a fait accompli,” said a ministry statement.
To-date, Kuwait is the only Arab country to boycott the conference; countries such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman and Bahrain are still expected to participate despite the presence of the Israeli delegation. It should be noted that they participated in a conference held in Abu Dhabi about a month ago to discuss issues of regional security, where Israeli President Shimon Peres gave the opening speech.
It is not surprising that countries such as Egypt, Jordan and Morocco, which have or had business relations with Israel, are taking part but there still remains some doubt if the others, who do not have relations with Israel, will continue to participate. Social networking sites in the Gulf region have been busy with discussions about this issue; those opposing Israeli participation in the conference outnumber those justifying it. One of the most prominent protesters was Abdul Khaliq Abdullah, a well-known Emirati political science professor, who wrote on his Twitter page: “I do not welcome the Israeli minister to the Emirates, and even if the UAE law allowed for protests, I would express my absolute rejection of the Israeli minister’s visit in a demonstration.”
According to the Kuwait Ministry of Electricity and Water, there was no advance notice given about the participation of the Israeli delegation. “The ministry withdrew its participation in the renewable energy conference once information was received about Israel’s participation.”
The Gulf Forum for Civil Societies condemned Israel’s participation in the IRENA conference and said that it expresses a degree of “normalisation” with the Zionist state. It condemned “the normalisation with Israel by the UAE and some Gulf states while Jerusalem is still under occupation and subject to division and control.” According to the forum, “The Gulf states should respect the wishes of the people and their rejection of this normalisation, which will lead to undesirable consequences on the future of the Gulf region and the main Arab cause, the Palestinian cause.”
The Israeli delegation at the conference is headed by the Energy, Water and National Infrastructures Minister, Silvan Shalom. A member of the delegation, who wished to remain anonymous, told AFP, “Shalom is representing Israel, which is participating in the Assembly, like all other members of the IRENA.”
He declined to comment about the possibility of the Israeli minister communicating with Gulf officials on the fringe of the conference. However, the majority of the Gulf States, including the United Arab Emirates, insist on the settlement of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, following the Arab Peace Initiative adopted in 2002 and rejected by Israel, as a prerequisite for normalised relations with Tel Aviv. Israel has been working hard over the past few years on a rapprochement with these countries, especially due to the fact that they share concerns over the growing influence of Iran.
In May last year, Haaretz newspaper quoted an economic document from the Israeli Ministry of Finance which gave details about the establishment of a diplomatic delegation to an unspecified Gulf country. The UAE first received an Israeli delegation in May 2003 to attend an IMF meeting. Oman and Qatar also welcomed two Israeli commercial brands, which they closed in 2000 and 2009 respectively, in protest at Israel’s policy toward the Palestinians in the occupied territories.
During the two-day IRENA meeting, the agency will discuss a roadmap that includes the doubling to 36 per cent of the share of renewable energies in the global energy package until 2030.