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U.S.-Israel Shared-Value Initiatives: Environmental Protection Cooperation

Americans and Israelis share an interest in the quality of their environment. And, perhaps even more so than in the United States, environmental issues are tied to Israeli security concerns. In particular, the shortage of water poses a severe threat to Israel’s economy and is a factor in peace talks with its neighbors. Dr. Kenneth Foster of the University of Arizona has noted that Israel is not only at the “forefront of water and resource conservation technology,” but Israelis are motivated by a social and political consciousness that stresses the importance of conservation and proper utilization of the land (Near East Report, July 8, 1991).

Within a year of the 1972 Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment, the Israeli Environmental Protection Service (EPS) was established. Since then, Israel has become widely recognized as a leader in environmental protection. Israel has a series of laws dealing with the environment, specifically the areas of air and noise pollution, fresh water quality, marine pollution, hazardous substances and solid waste and protection of nature.

A 1993 analysis of Israel’s policy concluded that “Israel has found inventive solutions to age-old problems” (Environmental Science & Technology, July 1993). A year earlier, Newsweek (June 1, 1992) rated 30 countries on three measures that strongly affect the planet’s health: population, forests and pollution. Israel was one of only three countries (Costa Rica and France were the others) rated “good” on each environmental problem.

Given the strong environmental awareness in Israel, and the advances made there in certain areas of research, it is logical that the United States should engage in cooperative ventures with the Jewish State.

In 1991, a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) in the field of environmental protection was signed between the Environmental Protection Agency and the Israeli Ministry of the Environment calling for exchanges of scientific and technical information; visits of scientific personnel; cooperation in holding workshops and cooperative research projects. This MOU is automatically renewed every five years unless either parties expresses a desire to terminate it. Little has been done directly under the MOU because no money was committed to implementation.

In 1993, three U.S. organizations arranged a workshop for Middle East leaders to discuss the problems of small community sanitation and water reuse in the Middle East. The Department of State (DOS), the U.S. Agency for International Development Program (UNDP) and the U.S. Environmental Agency (EPA) provided attendees with information and software to assist their planning of future wastewater systems in small communities.

The U.S. sponsored a follow-up workshop on June 12-15, 1994, in Cairo to explore the next steps in providing technical assistance for small community wastewater facilities planning. A total of 35 participants came to the meeting, including Israeli, Egyptian, Jordanian, Moroccan, Omani, Palestinian and Tunisian waste-water experts and representatives of the U.S., Russia, the World Bank and UNDP. It was jointly sponsored by the Multilateral Working Groups on Environment and Water Resource.

The President’s Environmental Technology Initiative also proposed and funded a project to deal with the same issues of wastewater collection, treatment and reuse in the Middle East. The project employed top U.S. professionals in the field along with U.S. manufacturers who examined specific technology to solve small community problems. Agreements were then negotiated with regional scientists and engineers to evaluate the technology and deliver assessments at regional forums in November 1996. In Israel, an evaluation was funded to deal with lagoon-reservoir-reuse systems. Part of this plan was the Peace Process project, in which a regional team of experts traveled to potential sites in different countries and chose the Village of Taffough in Hebron for construction of wastewater facilities. U.S. donor organizations, the World Bank, USAID and UNDP, are monitoring the construction.

The Center for Environmental Research (CERI), operating at the request of the EPA Office of Water, is sponsoring a project similar to the one in Hebron in Jenin, a small village in the Northern area of the West Bank. This project will used the same advanced technology used in the Hebron project to benefit Jenin crops. It is still in the development stage.

In the fall of 1998, representatives from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Israeli Ministry of Environment, in conjunction with the Air and Waste Management Association and the Environmental Technologies Council participated in a Hazardous Waste Management workshop in Israel designed to train the Israeli private sector in hazardous waste management and to share information on U.S. private sector technologies in the field. As a follow-up, representatives from the Israeli Ministry of the Environment and the private sector talked to U.S. industry representatives in an attempt to attract U.S. industry to Israel to address environmental efforts in the areas of sludge, waste management, coal desulfurization and dyking containment.

Also in 1998, the U.S.-Israel Science and Technology Commission sponsored a program on Regional Middle East Environmental Harmonization at the 5th World Congress of Chemical engineering in which representatives from Israel, Jordan, the Palestinian authority, and Egypt participated. As a result, the MENA-PeaceNet web site now contains each of the member countries’ environmental regulatory framework.

The nonprofit, non-government branch of the Commission, the U.S. Science and Technology Foundation, has allocated several million dollars to fund projects with new technology relating to the environment. One major project relates to toxic waste cleanup at a site in Israel called Ramat Hovav. The Foundation has $80 million worth of projects currently in progress relating to almost every aspect of the environment from solar power concentration to seawater desalination.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently began to assist in the development and implementation of a sister lakes environmental exchange program between Lake Winnipesaukee of New Hampshire and Lake Kinneret (Sea of Galilee) in Israel. The focus of this project will be on technical exchange programs.

During July of 2014 and Operation Protective Edge, American firefighters came to Israel to help put out fires there and preserve the environment.

Sources: Partners for Change