It seemed as though world leaders were lining up to chat with Israel Prime Minister Naftali Bennett during the first couple days of the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow, Scotland.
Brief talks with US President Joe Biden, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, French President Emanuel Macron and many others tended to focus on the looming Iran nuclear threat. And while short, a member of Bennett’s delegation told the press that these tête-à-têtes were very productive.
“This is a good time for Israeli diplomacy, and we must leverage it,” noted the Israeli official. “We tried to do in a half-hour what is usually done in a day or two,” he added, referring to the to-the-point meetings with various world leaders.
But that doesn’t mean there wasn’t time for pleasantries. With Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in particular, Bennett seemed to take time getting to know him as a friend.
Bennett called Modi “the most popular person in Israel,” and accepted an invitation to visit India early next year. Bennett’s predecessor, Benjamin Netanyahu, was also close to the Indian leader on a personal level.
Palestinians yelling into the wind
The Palestinian Authority, too, tried to take advantage of the international confab to level fresh accusations at Israel.
According to PA Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh, the reason the Palestinians can’t more effectively combat climate change is Israel, which he called “a stumbling block to Palestinian policies, especially as we cannot use all of our territory for solar energy.”
Shtayyeh told the gathered world leaders that “the Israeli occupation is the most critical long-term threat to the Palestinian environment,” and charged Israel with “systematically destroying the environment.” (No mention, of course, that Israel was the only nation on earth to enter the 21st century with a net gain in trees.)
Not many seemed to be listening to Shtayyeh, however. Israeli officials noted that the Palestinian issue was almost entirely ignored in Bennett’s meetings with other world leaders.
Partnership with Bill Gates
They talked a lot about Middle East politics and security, but what of climate change?
Bennett focused heavily on the topic of the day when it was his turn at the podium, and also had what could turn out to be a fateful meeting on the matter with one of the world’s richest men.
The Israeli prime minister wants to see Israel’s world-leading hi-tech industry shift more of its focus to combatting climate change. But few expect local industry leaders to do so unless there’s a strong financial incentive.
Partnering with the likes of Bill Gates might boost perceptions that the fight against climate change is not only good for the planet, but can be lucrative as well.
In a meeting on Tuesday on the sidelines of the COP26, Bennett and Gates announced the establishment of a working group between the State of Israel and the Gates Foundation in the field of climate change innovation.
Gates noted that Israel is obviously one of the most innovative nations on earth, but that the focus of its efforts has not been on climate change. Bennett assured him that the Jewish state could and would “pivot and channel our national energy — which is the energy of the people, the brainpower — to fighting climate change. We’re going to take this as a national mission.”
Gates said he’s excited to see where this new partnership with Israel leads in the near future.