Middle East conflicts coming into play in Paris

By Lisa Friedman | 12/03/2015 01:22 PM EST

LE BOURGET, France — You might think climate change negotiations have nothing to do with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. You’d be wrong. In this process, anything and everything can come into play — and often does.

Take today, when, according to negotiators in the room, blogger-flogging Saudi Arabia managed to get a reference to "human rights" deleted from a draft text. How? By linking it to the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

The language around human rights had been a hard-fought inclusion in a section of the Paris deal that lays out the objectives of the entire agreement. Getting words saying that addressing climate change should go hand in hand with respecting human rights — along with things like science and equity — was a huge win, said Alyssa Johl, senior attorney with the Center for International Environmental Law.


But a few hours ago, the words disappeared from the text. One negotiator who was there told E&E that "Saudi Arabia is sabotaging the human rights. Their tactic is to talk about people under occupation, with the knowledge that it is not acceptable to other parties."

That’s a clear reference to Palestinians in the West Bank, and including a reference to "the rights of people under occupation" in a climate deal is indeed language that the United States, a staunch Israel ally, would oppose.

Johl, who was not in the room herself but works closely with negotiators, also said insisting on that language was an act of "sabotage" on the part of Saudi Arabia and not done in good faith. A trip to the ornate Gulf Cooperation Council offices this afternoon to hear Saudi Arabia’s side of things was unsuccessful, but we’ll update later in the day if we hear back.

While the Saudis might have killed the language, Johl said they’re not the only country that has been a disappointment on human rights. Cuba and Iran supported the occupation language, she said, while the European Union has been "observing from the sidelines." The United States, meanwhile, has long sought to eliminate the entire section altogether.