Environmental cooperation

Why did you choose to study at Tel Aviv University?
I did a student exchange at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, in Be’er-Sheva, four years ago, while I was doing my undergraduate degree in Middle Eastern Studies in the Netherlands. During that semester, I took some courses related to the field of environmental studies. It inspired me to return to Israel and to find a program in this field.

I’ve now finished my first year of Tel Aviv University’s MA in environmental studies, and I’m focusing on my thesis. One of the things I like about the program is that if you’re not interested in writing a thesis, you don’t have to — in fact, you need certain grades to apply to the thesis track. I think it’s a smart approach: if you’re taking the program to enrich your knowledge or change career path, you might not need to write a thesis.

Why is the university’s environmental studies program a great option for students who want to focus on sustainability?
The environment is the biggest issue of our time, and the program’s interdisciplinary approach is crucial for things to really move forward. I took courses in all kinds of fields — water management, philosophy, city planning, nanotechnology, ecology – and learned to look at environmental issues from all these different fields of research.
What’s more, students come from all different backgrounds. Mine is in Middle Eastern studies, but my classmates hold degrees in economics, physics, biology, engineering and more. Some already had a career, and for many it was their second master’s degree. It was extremely valuable to learn together and from each other; it gave me a refreshing outlook on things.
My own thesis combines a lot of different disciplines, too – from Middle Eastern studies and water management to international relations and conflict studies, sociology and anthropology.
Sounds interesting, can you give us an overview of this project?

My topic is environmental cooperation under the Abraham Accords – the normalization agreement signed between Israel, the United Arab Emirates and the U.S. in September 2020. Specifically, I’m focusing on a recent agreement facilitated by the Accords that will see Israel provide Jordan with desalinated water, and Jordan provide Israel with solar power. It’s the first big outcome of the Accords that sees countries enter increased cooperation on environmental issues.

Efforts between Jordan and Israel had been going on for decades, but there were too many obstacles for something to actually happen. It’s very much a breakthrough in Israeli-Jordan relations — the biggest deal they’ve signed since the peace agreements in 1994; suddenly, things that weren’t possible are possible. My aim is to get an idea why such an agreement could come into existence, what it can bring to the region in terms of improved environmental cooperation and how that can lead to improved political stability and resource accessibility.
What drew you to this topic?
I come from the Netherlands, which is big on water management technology. During my time in Be’er-Sheva, I took a course in transboundary water management in the Middle East, which really sparked my interest. I then decided to write my BA thesis on transboundary water and wastewater issues between Israel and the Palestinians, and it’s also one of the reasons why I chose to do this program – because it covers transboundary water issues. It’s been gradual, step by step, and now everything is coming together in this project — my background in Middle Eastern Studies and my interests in water management and transboundary water issues.
How far along are you in your thesis?
I’m starting to conduct my interviews, reaching out to professionals in the field and people that have been involved in the signing of these agreements. I want to speak to politicians, diplomats and professionals in the water and energy sector, for all of the three countries that are involved.
What do you love the most about studying at Tel Aviv University?
Even though the program is demanding and serious, the professors are very approachable. You’re really taken seriously by the faculty and by the other students, too. Everybody’s very willing to help you or to connect you with other people.
What’s more, the program provides students with the opportunity to gain practical experience through an internship program in environmental advocacy, environmental planning, social justice, transportation, green architecture and more. It held a day where various organizations gave presentations about their internships, and we were then able to apply to ones we found interesting.
Do you already know what you’d like to do in the future?
I haven’t yet decided if I want to continue in academia and pursue a PhD, but I would really like to contribute to the field of peacebuilding and of solving shared issues between countries. It’s definitely something I want to develop further – it can take on so many different shapes.
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