Since early October, news reports have reported a tripartite agreement between Egypt, the Palestinian Authority and Israel to develop a natural gas field off the beleaguered Gaza Strip. No later than Monday, Wafa The news agency reported that PA Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh reportedly said that the PA had selected a group of ministers to discuss the Palestinian gas issue with Egypt and follow up the issue with the Fund. Palestinian Investment Fund (PIF).
On Tuesday, the Israeli public broadcaster Can revealed that this trilateral agreement was concluded between Egypt, the PA and Israel, but no details were provided.
Gas exploration off the coast of Gaza began in 1999. A year later, the British Gas Company (now BG Group) discovered gas in a field known as the Gaza Marine. It lies about 30 kilometers west of the Gaza Strip and is estimated to contain over 1 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.
The cost of developing the field is estimated at around $1.2 billion. It remained untapped because the PIF, responsible for its development, could not do anything due to the restrictions imposed by the Israeli occupation. Even the BG group was forced to terminate its contract with the PIF due to Israeli obstacles.
A number of reports since Tuesday have claimed that Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Egypt will benefit from the natural gas extracted from the Gaza Marine. However, on the same day, Anadolu reported an unnamed Palestinian source saying that information about the tripartite agreement is “inaccurate”. The source said that Israel would not get anything from “our” gas. “It’s unacceptable,” he insisted. “Israel is simply required not to interfere with the work.”
That’s not what an Israeli journalist told me. According to Baruch Yedid, Israel will indeed have a significant share of Gaza Marine’s revenue.
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Other sources reported by Al-Araby Al-Jadeed said that an Egyptian economic and security delegation had discussed the issue of Gaza Marine development with Israel. A member of the PLO executive committee said Al Monitor that Egypt had informed the PA of Israel’s approval to start developing the Palestinian gas field off the coast of Gaza. Egypt, said Al-Araby Al-Jadeedheld several “secret meetings” with Israeli officials to obtain the agreement of the occupation state to start developing Gaza Marine jointly with the PA.
Egyptian efforts to get a share of the gas began last year when, according to Independent Egypt, the Egyptian Natural Gas Holding Company (EGAS) has entered into discussions with the PIF and the Consolidated Contractors Company for Oil and Gas (CCC), the parties authorized to develop the field. The PIF holds 27.5% of the shares in the field; CCC holds 27.5 percent; and 45 percent will be for the operating company. EGAS hopes to be the developer.
A senior PA official, who asked to remain anonymous, told me that an initial agreement had been reached, but a final agreement has yet to be signed. He didn’t mention any timeline, but reports claim it could be by the end of this year. The official also said that Israel had agreed to engage in serious gas talks at the request of the EU, “hoping that this gas would end up in European storage tanks.”
The official explained that under the initial agreement, Egypt and Israel will monitor gas operations, with Egypt taking some of the gas by 2025, assuming all goes well. Most of the gas will be sent to Europe by Israel, which will share the resulting revenue with the PA.
According to the anonymous PA official, part of the revenue will be spent to develop the Palestinian economy in Gaza. “Israel, however, wants to make sure no money goes to Hamas.” The occupation state has claimed for years that it has blocked the development of Gaza Marine, fearing that Hamas, which has been the de facto authority in the besieged enclave since 2006, will reap the benefits.
In 2007, then-Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon claimed that Hamas used Gaza Marine revenues to fund attacks against Israel, the PA and “Israeli gas facilities”. Since then, nothing has changed on the ground: Hamas still governs the Gaza Strip, and the Israeli-Egyptian siege, supported by the PA and some Arab and European countries, is still in place. And Israel always touts its “security” fears.
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What has changed, however, is the emerging European demand for gas due to the Russian-Ukrainian war, as well as the serious need for funding from the PA, which the Arab and EU countries as well as the States States are unable or unwilling to provide.
It is now clear that everyone will benefit from the natural gas off Gaza, except those who probably need it most: the Palestinians in the besieged territory. Egypt wins as developer; the Palestinian Authority receives the revenue as the nominal owner; Israel takes part as a facilitator; and the EU gets the gas a consumer. Meanwhile, the people of Gaza, who have suffered from a severe lack of cooking gas, kerosene and electricity for fifteen years and more, will have to watch in silence as their natural resources are stolen from under their noses.
No one believes that Gaza Marine’s revenue will, in part, be used to boost Gaza’s economy. We’ve heard promise after promise on such issues for years, and nothing has ever materialized, because Israel always comes up with a new “security” issue and refuses to ease or lift the siege. The PA, meanwhile, is very open about its contempt for Palestinians in Gaza, so Ramallah’s promises are worthless.
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