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By Rabbi Julian Sinclair

Dear Bibi,

It was great to read about your 100 day plan in last week’s Jerusalem Post. It certainly grapples with some of Israel’s main challenges: Iran’s nuclear program, terrorism, the economy, stemming job losses and “interfacing” with the Obama administration. Good luck with all of that. You’ll certainly need it.

Incoming Israeli Prime Minister, Binyamin Bibi Netanyahu

Incoming Israeli Prime Minister, Binyamin "Bibi" Netanyahu

But there was one major issue glaringly absent from the plan; one that you must deal with if you are to effectively address every other item on the list. Energy is at the core of Israel’s – and the world’s – most urgent geo-political, environmental, economic and security challenges.

Continuing reliance on oil from oppressive Middle Eastern regimes is no longer an option. The world must move rapidly to clean, renewable energy sources. Israel can, and must be at the heart of that transformation.

Let’s see how energy policy is intertwined with every one of your target issues. Take Iran and terrorism, the first two points on the list. Iran has reached the threshold of building a nuclear bomb, which you identify as an existential threat to Israel, using the proceeds of decades of petrodollars. Hamas and Hezbollah are financed by the same dirty sources of funding. Hezbollah was able to provoke the 2006 war that laid waste to Southern Lebanon because oil-funded Iranian largesse then rebuilt the country and bought off its enraged inhabitants.

Long before most people, you grasped the connection between the undemocratic nature of Arab regimes and their continuing conflict with Israel. But there’s an equally fundamental connection that you may have missed, the one between the undemocratic nature of those regimes and their huge oil revenues.

States with access to huge monopoly rents from exporting oil and natural gas have money to buy off interest groups and potential opponents. They have no incentive to invest in education for their people or to foster economic and occupational diversity. According to Larry Diamond of Stanford University, of the twenty three nations in the world that derive most of their export income from oil and gas, not one is a democracy. It’s no coincidence. Helping the Western world to kick its oil addiction is probably the single most important and practical thing we can do towards creating a more democratic and peaceful Middle East.

And we can help, in a big way. Israel has world-leading renewable energy companies like Solel, Sunday, Ormat, and Project Better Place. An Israeli firm, Brightsource-Luz2 just landed the largest ever contract for solar energy ever signed with a utility provider. (1.3 Gigawatts with South California Edison.)

What’s more, they have achieved these extraordinary successes not thanks to, but despite, the policy of successive Israeli governments. Speak to senior executives at some of Israel’s clean energy companies; you’ll hear stories of brilliant innovators waiting a decade for zoning permission to build a solar field or of encountering nightmarish administrative delays when they want to connect renewable energy generation to the National Grid.

The feed-in tariff for solar energy recently enacted by the outgoing government was a good idea, and should be implemented. But what would arguably help the renewable energy industry even more would be the ability to compete with fossil fuels on a level playing field. If you declare renewable energy to be an Israeli national security priority and blast through the bureaucracy, the ingenuity of our inventors and entrepreneurs could do the rest.

Turning to the next two items on your shopping list, the potential economic and employment benefits of encouraging Israel’s clean technology sector are huge. The world energy market is currently worth $ 5 trillion. With the prospect of a global carbon capping agreement from 2012, a large and increasing proportion of sum will be spent on renewables. This represents a huge economic opportunity for Israeli companies. Bold government policy could help Israel enterprises to capture a large share of this enormous market.

What is more, it would bring high-tech, high skill, high wage jobs to Israel. Currently there are leading Israeli clean technology companies that do their R and D in Israel but send their construction and manufacturing abroad to avoid bureaucratic entanglement. With recession cutting into the local employment base, these jobs need to come home.

And what of Obama? We all know that behind the brave talk about unshakable friendship based on deep common interests, there are major ideological gaps between the new American and Israeli governments. It’s not just about the Palestinians, but extends to broader social, geopolitical and economic policy too.

In 1996, you wowed the Republican congress with your passion for tax cuts and deregulation. Positioning yourself as the last dinosaur of Reaganite Neo-liberalism won’t win you many friends in post bailout Washington DC today. Throughout the Bush era we were considered America’s necessary ally in the War on Terror. The new administration appears to believe that there is no such thing.

But energy is one area that cries out for deep cooperation between Israel and the US. For Barack Obama has, correctly (in my opinion), identified global climate change as a major threat to the world, and pledged that the United States will take the lead in addressing it. He has accepted the challenge of revolutionizing the way America produces and uses energy. To this end, he has committed billions of dollars towards increasing energy efficiency, promoting solar and wind power and reducing the country’s reliance on oil and goal.

We need you to accept this challenge too. Lead our country towards a future of safe, clean, renewable energy, and help us to lead the world there. Then you will be able to justly claim that Israel is America’s indispensable strategic partner in the most important economic and technological transformation of our time.

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