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.