A former ambassador to Israel and Egypt cautioned members of the New Jersey-Israel Commission June 29 to expect some “diplomatic fireworks” in the coming months.
Based on his recent trips to the Middle East and “the conversations I had last week in Washington,” Daniel Kurtzer said, “We are not very far along in breaking the stalemate” in Israeli negotiations with the Palestinians.
Instead, a showdown is looming at the United Nations, where the Palestinians may seek recognition as an independent state this fall.
Kurtzer, the S. Daniel Abraham Professor in Middle Eastern Policy Studies at Princeton University, spoke in Newark June 29 to members of the commission, of which he is a former chair.
He warned that failure to reach agreement on a two-state solution “opens up possibilities which everyone agrees are quite dangerous,” including a real alliance between Hamas and Fatah.
Kurtzer’s 20-minute talk to some 50 commission members and their guests was part of a two-and-a-half hour meeting that focused mainly on enhancing trade relations between Israel and New Jersey in the areas of renewable energy and life sciences.
In other presentations, Shlomi Kofman, Israel’s deputy consul general, told the group his country was an “energy island that is not connected to its neighbors. Oil has to be imported and we have to provide electricity ourselves.”
“We have been trying to get our electric grid connected to Jordan and the Arab gas pipe that bypasses Israel. It is quite unfortunate, because today if Israel’s capacity to produce electricity continues to grow, we will be able to sell or provide backup to our neighbors. But the grids are not strong enough.”
He said the possibility of nuclear power plants “is also an issue which is under review in Israel.”
“What is remarkable are the depth and breadth of solar energy projects going on in Israel,” said Mark Levenson, an attorney and chair of the commission. “We have to figure out ways to mine that.”
Ronald Reisman, the renewable energy program manager at the state’s Clean Energy Program at the Board of Public Utilities, suggested Israeli companies could benefit from a NJ initiative.
“We think it’s great if someone in New Jersey puts a solar system on their roof. We think it’s even greater if that solar system is manufactured in New Jersey,” he said.
Peter Kash, a cofounder and partner in a New York venture capital firm known as the Two River Group, spoke of ways to create partnerships between the 25 scientific institutes in Israel and 150 biotech companies and universities in New Jersey.
“In order to leverage that we have to become more proactive,” he said. “Instead of waiting for a company to come to sell us goods and services, a committee should be formed to review more than 3,500 absolute startups in Israel. I believe in seeking out technology before it comes to you. If New Jersey does not take advantage of this, someone else will.”
Kurtzer acknowledged that Israel’s economy “is doing extraordinarily well,” but warned that “the circle of enmity that surrounds the country has not changed for the better.”
Despite “internal turmoil in Iran” that has “circumscribed the power of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad,” the ambassador said its nuclear ambitions “still represent the only existential threat Israel faces in terms of its security.” He said the United States and Israel have been working on a variety of programs aimed at “turning back” such threats.