newsU.S.-Israel Relations

Herzog, Harris unveil $70 million climate-tech partnernship

During their meeting in Washington, the Israeli president and U.S. vice president also discussed the Iran threat, the Abraham Accords and the Judea and Samaria security situation.

Israeli President Isaac Herzog and U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris discuss a new climate initiative at the White House complex on July 19, 2023. Source: YouTube.
Israeli President Isaac Herzog and U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris discuss a new climate initiative at the White House complex on July 19, 2023. Source: YouTube.

Ahead of a one-on-one meeting on July 19 at the White House, Israeli President Isaac Herzog and U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris unveiled a new climate technology partnership, which will draw up to $70 million of U.S. and Israeli investment to support climate-healthy agriculture and use new technologies to protect critical Middle East and Africa water resources.

“We are harnessing today the broad infrastructure of our cooperation to introduce a new joint initiative to address a primary challenge of our time,” said Herzog. He said the implications of the “climate crisis” were “far reaching,” with repercussions for all.

The two leaders announced the partnership at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, which is part of the White House complex.

Harris noted that she had toured Israeli desalination plants when she last visited the country, calling Israel’s advances in the field “a model for the rest of the globe, in terms of how we use the best of innovation and science and technology to preserve some of our Earth’s most natural and precious resources.” 

She told Herzog: “The work that you have done has inspired so many here in the United States as well.”

The partnership, which Harris said could extend to Negev Forum countries or India via the I2U2 forum, could expand access for farmers and innovators to certain Israeli and U.S. technological tools or mobile applications, investment in training, technical assistance and education, according to Harris.

“This investment in innovative solutions for sustainable food production and water use augments existing cooperation between our two countries and will help build resilient food systems and address the climate crisis around the globe,” said the vice president.

Herzog told reporters that he had predicted Harris’s political ascent when he met the then-U.S. senator in Jerusalem in 2017. “I’m so happy I was right,” he said.

The two have spoken by phone four times since Herzog became president in 2021.

Iran threat, judicial reform

At their meeting, Herzog and Harris also discussed the Iranian threat, Israeli normalization with Arab and Muslim countries, the volatile security situation in Judea and Samaria and the need to combat antisemitism, according to a White House official.

Harris said that countering Iran was the “highest priority.”

Harris repeated the refrain of an “unbreakable” U.S.-Israel bond, and emphasized Washington’s “ironclad” commitment to Israeli security, however, she touched on a pair of sore points.

She emphasized the need to “strengthen our respective democracies and democratic institutions,” an apparent reference to Israeli judicial reform, which the White House has criticized harshly and extensively.

Harris also made reference to the “work we will do to ensure Israelis and Palestinians can live safely and securely and enjoy equal measures of freedom, prosperity and democracy,” also a common Biden administration refrain.

Earlier in the day, Herzog had addressed judicial reform head-on in his address to the joint session of Congress, likening the internal debate in Israel to those in the United States in recent years. “I have great confidence in Israeli democracy. Although we are working through sour issues, just like you, I know our democracy is strong and resilient,” he told Congress.

Herzog has largely avoided the Palestinian issue during his time in Washington, except when discussing Palestinian terror preventing progress in a peace process.

Visa waiver program

On the same day Herzog and Harris unveiled the climate partnership, Israel announced that it will change its travel procedures for U.S. citizens who are listed on the Palestinian population registry. Starting on July 20, such individuals will be able to travel through all Israeli points of entry, including Ben Gurion Airport, and like other U.S. citizens, remain in Israel for up to 90 days. 

Ben Gurion Airport had been off-limits to Palestinians, who had to travel to Jordan and then fly in and out of Amman. The change brings Israel closer to qualifying for the coveted U.S. Visa Waiver Program, which requires reciprocity. Under the program’s terms, all participating countries’ citizens can travel visa-free to the United States in exchange for the same courtesy applied to U.S. citizens traveling abroad.

“We understand that these changes are designed to ensure equal treatment for all U.S. citizens, without regard to national origin, religion or ethnicity,” the U.S. State Department stated. “The department is working closely with the government of Israel in its efforts to meet those requirements, in furtherance of our shared goal that Israel join the Visa Waiver Program when it meets all program requirements.”

Washington will reportedly send a team of officials to Israel over the coming days and weeks to ensure Israeli compliance with the parameters of the memorandum of understanding on the issue, which the U.S. and Israeli ambassadors signed. If Israel doesn’t comply with the program requirements by September 30, it would have to reapply for membership in the program.

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