by Ali Abunimah 3 March 2015 Electronic Intifada
Palestinians are celebrating end of Israel-PA gas deal, but vigilance is needed to protect rich gas fields off Gaza’s shore from exploitation by Israel in collusion with the PA. (Mohammed Asad / APA images)
Palestinian activists are welcoming the cancelation of a lucrative deal in which the Palestinian Authority would have purchased at least $1.2 billion worth of natural gas from an Israeli consortium over the next twenty years.
The news is likely to add to pressure on Jordan to cancel a similar deal from which Israel would reap vast profits.
And on the Palestinian front, vigilance is needed to defeat long-term efforts by Israel and the Palestinian Authority to give Israel ultimate control of the rich gas fields off Gaza’s coast.
Palestine’s Boycott National Committee (BNC) welcomed the announcement last week that the Palestine Power Generation Company had withdrawn “a few months ago from the agreement with the developers of the [Israeli] Leviathan natural gas field.”
The gas would have supplied a planned power plant near Jenin in the occupied West Bank.
Mahmoud Nawajaah, general coordinator of the BNC, the largest civil society coalition in Palestine and the steering group for the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign, said: “The import of Israeli gas would contribute to entrenching our economic dependency on Israel and strengthen the Israeli economy at a time when Israel’s international isolation is growing.”
Pressure on Jordan
In its statement, the BNC also noted that “ending the Palestinian gas deal with Israel pulls the rug from under the feet of any Jordanian official supporting the purchase of ‘Israeli gas’ under the pretext of ‘we shall not be more Palestinian than the Palestinians themselves.’”
As The Electronic Intifada reported recently, there is near unanimous and growing opposition in Jordan to a deal signed by that country’s government to purchase $15 billion worth of natural gas from Israeli-controlled parts of the Mediterranean Sea over a fifteen-year period.
“Israel is facing growing boycotts and divestments in the academic, cultural and even economic spheres with the steady and impressive mainstream spread of the global BDS movement,” the BNC’s Nawajaah added. “We appeal to our brethren in Egypt and Jordan to stop the Israeli gas import negotiations to deprive the Israeli regime of occupation and apartheid of this strategic windfall.”
Palestinian gas is vulnerable to profiteers
In its statement, the BNC notes that the Palestine Power Generation Company has affirmed that instead of buying Israel’s gas it would seek to use “Palestinian natural gas off the coast of Gaza, out of its commitment to ‘national independence in the energy sector.’”
While these words may be reassuring, recent gas finds off the coast of Gaza are by no means safe from Palestinian and international profiteers working in collusion with and for the benefit of Israel.
For years, former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair lobbied Israel on behalf of British Gas to allow the energy giant to exploit gas off Gaza’s coast in collaboration with Israel.
Blair, who pushed for the deal while serving in dual and conflicting roles as Quartetenvoy and consultant to investment bank JP Morgan (of which British Gas is a major client), would have seen “Israel control the gas supply, and any surplus gas sold to Israel, and not on the open market.”
Such a deal would have ensured Israel gained access to Palestinian gas at concessionary prices. This would not only eliminate Palestinian gas as a source of competition for Israeli gas, but would likely have allowed Israel to resell the Palestinian gas on the open market for its own profit.
Similar corrupt deals between Egyptian profiteers to sell Egypt’s gas to Israel at low prices were exposed by Al Jazeera English last year. The deals cost the Egyptian public billions of dollars in lost revenue.
While the British Gas deal has not come to fruition and Gaza’s gas fields remain untapped, the huge finds have long been the target of parties determined to ensure that they reap the benefits.
Researcher Anais Antreasyan laid out some of these efforts in a 2012 article in theJournal of Palestine Studies (“Gas Finds in the Eastern Mediterranean: Gaza, Israel, and Other Conflicts”).
Antreasyan notes the collusion of the Israel-allied and Western-backed Palestinian Authority headed by Mahmoud Abbas with Israel to exploit the gas and deprive the lawful PA government of access to the revenues.
As Antreasyan reports, in 2007, as part of the proposed British Gas deal to exploit gas off Gaza’s shores:
Abbas and the Israeli government secretly agreed that the PA share of the revenues would be transferred through an international account that would be inaccessible to the official PA government, dominated by Hamas since the PA legislative elections in January 2006. Under this plan, gas would be piped to Ashkelon for liquefaction in Israel and thence to supply the Israeli market and cover Gaza’s more limited needs. This would generate important benefits as well as the mutual dependency deemed to “create a good atmosphere for peace.”
It would also have generated massive profits over which the Palestinian people would have had no oversight or control.
However, the US-backed coup, in which forces loyal to Abbas tried and failed to overthrow Hamas in Gaza put an end to the plan. Due to the coup attempt, Abbas consolidated his Israeli-backed control of the West Bank while the democratically elected Hamas-led government was isolated in Gaza.
As a consequence, gas from the waters off Gaza has still not flowed.
But the history serves as a warning to Palestinian civil society that great vigilance and transparency are still needed to ensure that Israel does not gain control of Palestinian resources, with the PA or the companies it controls acting as fronts.
The cancelation of the Israel-PA gas deal is nonetheless an important achievement.