Israel has reportedly agreed to permit the Palestinian Authority to extract natural gas in the Gaza Marine field, 22 miles off the coast of the Gaza Strip, after months of secret bilateral talks.
In 2000, British Gas, now known as BG Group, discovered the Gaza Marine field, which is estimated to hold more than 1 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. Until now, Israel has not permitted the P.A., or the Palestine Investment Fund – which is the P.A. body responsible for the site – to develop the field.
“An Egyptian economic and security delegation discussed with the Israeli side for several months the issue of allowing the extraction of natural gas off the coast of Gaza,” an official in Egypt’s General Intelligence Service told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity. “The delegation finally succeeded in reaching a compromise that would benefit all relevant parties, the most important of which are Israel and the Palestinian Authority.”
Developing the field will cost approximately $1.2 billion. It is unclear, however, where that money will come from, but the P.A. has regularly received over a billion dollars in annual grants from the European Union and the United States.
Last February, the P.A. and Egypt signed an agreement that the Egyptian Natural Gas Holding Company and the P.A. would develop the gas field in cooperation. Egypt draws its natural gas from fields in the Mediterranean Sea, the Nile Delta and the Western Desert; by December, Egypt was exporting at full capacity of about 1.6 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day.
According to a PLO Executive Committee official, who spoke to Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity, both Egypt and Israel will supervise the extraction of natural gas. While part of the gas will be exported to Egypt, most of it will be exported by Israel to Europe through Greece and Cyprus.
The financial proceeds from the sale of the natural gas will go to the P.A. and part of the proceeds will be transferred to Gaza’s economy, which is ruled by the Iranian-backed Hamas terrorist organization. According to the unnamed PLO official, European countries were instrumental in exerting pressure on Israel to approve the extraction of gas in the Gaza Marine field.
In parallel to the announced permissions, Israel and Lebanon entered a historic agreement about the maritime border between the two countries on Tuesday.
“All our demands were met, and the changes that we asked for were corrected,” said Israel’s National Security Council director Eyal Hulata, head of the state’s negotiating team. “We protected Israel’s security interests and are on our way to a historic agreement.”
Lebanon was also satisfied.
“Lebanon felt that it takes into consideration all of Lebanon's requirements, and we believe that the other side should feel the same,” Lebanon’s chief negotiator Elias Bou Saab said.
Lebanon has reason to be satisfied, as the borderline it had registered with the United Nations – known as line 23 – was recognized in the deal.
U.S. President Joe Biden said in a statement that the maritime deal between Israel and Lebanon “will provide for the development of energy fields for the benefit of both countries, setting the stage for a more stable and prosperous region, and harnessing vital new energy resources for the world.”
Israel’s former prime minister and opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu tweeted his disagreement with the deal, which he sees as Israel’s “surrender” to Lebanon’s demands. He stated that Israel’s transitional government “has no mandate to make such a dangerous decision in the dark, just days before the elections.”
“[Israeli Prime Minister Yair] Lapid and [Defense Minister Benny] Gantz surrendered to Hezbollah’s extortion behind the backs of the citizens of Israel and the Knesset,” Netanyahu said on social media. “They are transferring Israel’s strategic assets to Hezbollah in a liquidation sale.”
“Hezbollah will use billions of dollars from the gas to arm itself with missiles and rockets that it will use against Israeli citizens, and Iran will position itself in front of Rosh HaNikra and Israel’s gas reserves,” Netanyahu said, in a reference to the most northern point on Israel’s Mediterranean coast.
Lapid praised the maritime-border deal as “an historic achievement that will strengthen Israel’s security, inject billions into Israel’s economy, and ensure the stability of our northern border.”
The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.