A fresh look at Gaza gas
By: Alsir Sidahmed
Aside from the debate on who actually won in the five weeks of Gaza war between Israel and Hamas, the focus will be on future negotiations in September and whether they will indicate a serious shift in the Israeli thinking and address the occupation issue and provide some hope for the Palestinians to persuade them away from violence to improve their lives.
Ironically, the biggest winner of the violence that has cost more than 2,000 Palestinian lives seems to be President Mahmoud Abbas, known as Abu Mazin, and the Palestinian Authority (PA) that he chairs. And if attention is to focus on economic issues, Gaza gas could surface on the top as it was one of the issues handled in the past by the PA under late President Yasser Arafat.
Fifteen years ago and exactly in 1999, the PA awarded a concession license to a joint venture between both BG (formerly British Gas), which holds 90 percent of the shares and the Athens-based Consolidated Contractors Company (CCC) that was given 10 percent.
They were tasked with exploring and developing the Gaza Marine over 25 years, with the option for the Palestinian Investment Fund taking a stake at the development stage.
However, the following year the first field Gaza Marine gas was discovered about 36 km offshore and 2,000 feet under water.
A second well was drilled in the same year of 2000 to determine the size and volume of the field content.
Best estimations put its size at one trillion cubic feet (tcf). With such reserve and closeness to the shore, the field is termed commercially viable.
The story said that in September 2000 Arafat took a fishing boat to visit the platform where a huge flame of gas shot up in the air.
Excited with the discovery, he declared that, “it is a gift from Allah to us, to our people, to our children. This will provide a solid foundation for our economy, for establishing an independent state with holy Jerusalem as its capital.”
Energy institutions in both Egypt and Israel showed interest in buying the Gaza gas, but dispute centered on price.
However, it later became clear that Israeli Prime Minister then Ariel Sharon has vetoed the idea of importing gas from Palestinians on political and security grounds.
It took Tony Blair, then the special envoy of the Quartet (US, UN, EU and Russia) an effort to persuade Sharon to withdraw his veto, but that did not last long.
In 2003, Sharon came again to express reservations that income going to the PA could be used to finance military activities against Israel.
The latest refusal was developed by Moshe Ya’lon, former chief of staff of the Israeli army, who said back in 2007 that using money generated from selling Gaza gas to develop the economy of the PA is a wrong idea, not only because money will be used for terrorist purposes, but also because any deal has to involve Hamas, who controls Gaza.
He said Hamas would either work hard to undermine the project to utilize Gaza Marine field or use the fresh income it can generate to fight PA or Israel.
He concluded by saying that the three options are bad and the only feasible route for Israel is to uproot out Hamas from its control in Gaza.
Ya’lon became Israel’s defense minister and the latest war on Gaza was seen as an opportunity to put his theory in practice. And that is why there was a belief that the latest Gaza war could have been avoided had it not been for Israeli leadership agenda to eject Hamas from power.
The problem with that strategy is that it did not provide a Palestinian alternative as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu continued to sideline Abu Mazin and PA and despite marathon efforts put by US Secretary of State John Kerry.
With the upcoming substantive talks between Israel, the Palestinians and regional players such as Egypt, a central question will be posed: to what extent is Tel Aviv willing to change its long cherished strategy of trying to eat the cake and keep it at the same time: continue occupation without paying a price for it.
An alternative seems to be in empowering PA with some political and economic gains that can provide Palestinians with some hope in their future and the window to that is to revive the Gaza Marine project.