Jordan starts getting gas from Israel despite heated opposition

Jordanians hold placards during a demonstration in Amman against an agreement by Jordan to buy natural gas from Israel for 15 years. (AFP/File)
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Updated 03 January 2020

Jordan starts getting gas from Israel despite heated opposition

  • Jordan will reportedly be fined $1.5 billion if it abrogates the deal

JERUSALEM: A controversial Jordan-Israel gas deal went live on Tuesday despite heated public opposition, as the first experimental pumping of gas extracted from shores east of Haifa began. 

The $10 billion, 15-year agreement calls for the import of gas from the Levitan gas well around 50 km west of Haifa. Jordan is expected to receive 300 million cubic meters of natural gas daily. 

Jordan will reportedly be fined $1.5 billion if it abrogates the deal, and it can reduce its import by no more than 20 percent even if it finds gas within its borders.

The deal is backed by guarantees from the Jordanian and US governments. Jordan has spent JOD11 million ($15.51 million) according to its 2018 budget to prepare the infrastructure to receive Israeli gas. 

The Jordanian National Electric Power Company (NEPCO) said Wednesday that the experimental pumping of natural gas would last for three months.

The head of the Al-Islah bloc in the Lower House, Saleh Al-Armouti, said last July he had obtained a translated copy of the agreement and, according to him, there were provisions that allowed the government to cancel the deal without paying a $1.5 billion penalty and accused the government of misleading the public.

Hisham Bustani, who coordinated a campaign against the deal, told Amman-based Radio Al-Balad that only Jordan’s Parliament could stop the “catastrophic” deal and that there was no need to get gas from Israel. “We have a liquified gas port in Aqaba, the Egyptian gas has returned and we have electricity produced by solar panels. We will pay $10 billion from the pockets of Jordanian taxpayers simply to ensure our subordination to the Zionist entity which is selling us gas that is stolen from Palestine,” he told the broadcaster.

But parliamentarian Wafa Bani Mustafa said efforts to stop the deal had failed and that the start of operations was a “black day.” 

“Unfortunately all the public and parliamentary pressure failed to produce any results,” she told Arab News, describing the attempt to pass a law to stop the Israeli import. “Our effort for an expedited decision for our suggested legislation has been buried in committees.”

In Nov. 30, the head of the Lower House’s Foreign Relations Committee, Raed Khazaleh, called for the trial of everyone involved the signing of the agreement. He also said there were secret clauses in the agreement.

MP Tariq Khoury was furious with the gas deal, saying the issue could not be resolved politically but through drastic measures. “If I express all what’s inside me I will go to jail,” he told Arab News.

Mohammad Absi, a member of the anti-Israeli gas coalition, urged civil society, lawmakers and unions to take part in a demonstration on Friday afternoon.


British MPs urge UK government to recognize Palestine

Updated 22 January 2020

British MPs urge UK government to recognize Palestine

  • Palestinian envoy welcomes cross-party call ahead of visit by Prince Charles

LONDON: A group of British MPs has called for the UK to recognize the state of Palestine ahead of a visit by Prince Charles to Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories.

In a letter to The Times, the MPs, along with figures from think tanks and pressure groups, said the move was long overdue and would help fulfill Britain’s “promise of equal rights for peoples in two states.” 

The call comes as the heir to the British throne travels on Thursday to Israel and the occupied West Bank. 

During the visit, he will meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Bethlehem and Israeli President Reuven Rivlin in Jerusalem. 

Prince Charles will also attend the World Holocaust Forum to mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp. 

The letter said since 2014, no meaningful progress has been made in the peace process, and Israel’s actions are pushing a two-state solution beyond reach.

“Illegal Israeli settlements, described by the Foreign Office as undermining peace efforts, are expanding,” the letter said.

Among the signatories are Emily Thornberry, a candidate for the Labour Party leadership, and Crispin Blunt, chairman of the Conservative Middle East Council.

Husam Zomlot, the Palestinian envoy to the UK, welcomed the move but said full recognition from the British government should have happened many years ago.

“Recognition doesn’t contradict peacemaking and negotiations,” Zomlot told Arab News, referring to the main argument used by the UK against taking such a step. 

“It reinforces the vision (of a Palestinian state) and a negotiated two-state solution. It should happen now because of the threat of annexation (of Palestinian territory) and the killing of the two-state solution.”

FASTFACT

Prince Charles will also attend the World Holocaust Forum to mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp. 

Alistair Carmichael, a Liberal Democrat MP who signed the letter, told Arab News that the policies of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government toward Palestine “makes the achievement of a two-state solution more and more remote with every week that passes.”

He said: “The UK has historic and political obligations toward Israelis and Palestinians. There’s now no longer any good reason not to recognize the state of Palestine.”

A spokesman for Labour MP Fabian Hamilton, who also signed the letter, told Arab News: “The fact that this has cross-party support shows the growing desire across Parliament for the recognition of a Palestinian state and a two-state solution.”

Chris Doyle, director of the Council for Arab-British Understanding, said the international community needs to finally stand up for the solution that it has had on the table for decades.

Doyle, an Arab News columnist, said the letter is an “indication that many people in British politics think we should be doing this, we should be standing up for the Palestinian right to self-determination, the legal rights, at a time when the state of Israel is doing everything to stop this, to take more land from the Palestinians.”

The letter was timed to coincide with a meeting of European foreign ministers on Monday, who discussed the Middle East peace process.

The Palestinian Authority, which runs parts of the West Bank, has been increasing calls for European countries to recognize the state of Palestine as the US has shifted to a more pro-Israel stance, including recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in 2017.

Writing in The Guardian on Monday, Saeb Erekat, secretary-general of the Palestine Liberation Organization, said Europe could strengthen its role in the peace process if it recognized Palestine.

“European recognition of this state is not only a European responsibility but a concrete way to move towards a just and lasting peace,” he said.

Only nine out of the 28 EU countries have so far recognized Palestine as a state, compared to 138 out of the 193 UN member states.

In 2011, the UK’s then-Foreign Minister William Hague said the British government “reserves the right” to recognize Palestine “at a time of our own choosing, and when it can best serve the cause of peace.”

In 2012, the UN General Assembly voted to upgrade Palestine’s status to that of “nonmember observer state.”