Analysis: Why Bibi will not go to Copenhagen

Greenpeace Israel held an unusual demonstration outside the prime minister’s office in Jerusalem on Sunday. Dressed as El Al cabin crew, they held aloft a giant boarding card with passenger Binyamin Netanyahu’s name.

They demanded the government put the issues of global warming and protection of the environment higher up its agenda and, as a start, urged Mr Netanyahu to fly to Copenhagen next month for the global climate summit.

So far the prime minister has yet to announce his travel plans for December. The spin was that he was still “considering” attending the summit, though his schedule is very full. Mr Netanyahu has tried in recent weeks to buff up his “green” credentials, though he has never been seen as particularly green-minded.

But even a short stopover in Copenhagen was highly unlikely.

For a start, while Israeli firms may be world leaders in solar energy and electric transport, the country lacks anything resembling a coherent environment strategy. While it is not one of the world’s major polluters, Israel still has committed climate sins, most notably around the Haifa bay, where there are oil refineries and heavy industry, and at a toxic waste site near Beer Sheva.

The sparsely staffed and funded Environment Ministry is no match for the government agencies in charge of building new towns and roads.

Israel has so far kept out of the battles over international carbon-cutting treaties. With more than enough grief on its diplomatic plate, this is one battle Israel prefers not to fight. Why give the international community another stick with which to beat Israel?

Then there is the summit’s location. Denmark has often taken the lead, together with other Scandinavian countries, in highly critical motions of censure of Israel. Why should Israel help boost the Danish government?

But the Danish prime minister will not be the biggest star at the summit. That will be Barack Obama, and the rest of the world leaders will be there vying for his attention. Still smarting from the freezing reception he received last week at the White House, Mr Netanyahu will do almost anything not to be in a position where Mr Obama can deal him yet another public snub. At least he will be keeping his carbon footprint down by staying at home.

    Last updated: 4:15pm, November 19 2009