Although Palestinians and Israelis inhabit the same physical terrain, the unequal effects of climate change can be seen in stark relief in Palestine — a disfigured, disjointed, segregated and stratified territory, in which Israel both directly and indirectly sets the rules.
The Israeli occupation— now in its fifty-third year — not only prevents Palestinians from accessing basic resources for climate change adaptation, but also from pursuing longer-term measures. Israel’s own environmental policy can be described as Janus-faced. One of its faces promotes environmental reform and technological development. The other deprives Palestinians of their land, water, and other natural resources. And it has managed to maintain this Janus-faced approach despite wide-ranging international condemnation.
This piece examines the divergent impact of climate change on Palestine-Israel, particularly in the OPT. It argues that the Israeli occupation drastically increases Palestinian vulnerability to the effects of climate change through the appropriation of land and natural resources, as well as restrictions on movement of people, goods and capital. It calls for robust local and international efforts to end the occupation and to hold Israel accountable under the law: minimum standards for any international Green New Deal.
Palestinian Vulnerability by Design
Climate change is expected to impact both Palestine and Israel in two key ways in the coming years: decreased precipitation, with an anticipated annual reduction of up to 30% in the eastern Mediterranean region; and increased temperatures, given a predicted increase between between 2.2 and 5.1°C. The latter is likely to lead to highly disruptive, if not catastrophic, changes to the region’s climate, including increased desertification.
The combination of decreased rainfall and rising temperatures will result in a higher demand for water (an already overexploited resource) that will be in increasingly short supply and could lead to water insecurity. Agriculture, which has always been a cornerstone of the Palestinian economy, will suffer greatly as a result.
However, Palestine’s fragmented political landscape poses some of the greatest challenges to coping with climate change. Three different entities govern the territory between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea: the Israeli government directly presides over the modern state of Israel as well as the occupied and illegally annexed East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, and — de facto— the occupied Area C, including the fertile Jordan Valley in the West Bank; the Palestinian Authority oversees Areas A and B in the West Bank largely in name, suffering frequent Israeli military incursions; and Hamas controls the Gaza Strip, which has been under Israeli siege for 12 years.
This differentiated political and social reality divorces the OPT from its wider political and geographic context. Palestine’s vulnerability should be understood in the context of more than seven decades of Palestinian displacement, dispossession, and oppression. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were made refugees in 1947-48 when Israel was created and are still heavily reliant on aid from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency and other humanitarian organizations; most of these vulnerable communities are beyond the purview of the Palestinian Authority in the OPT.