Jordanians demand scrapping of $10b gas deal with Israel
Ali Abunimah, Electronic Intifada, Sep 29 2016
Jordanians will rally in downtown Amman on Friday to protest a $10b deal signed this week by the government-owned electricity company to buy Israeli-supplied natural gas. Demonstrations are being planned in other cities, backed by a coalition of parties and groupings from across Jordan’s political spectrum. Jordan BDS said on Wednesday:
Signing this agreement blatantly ignores the will of the Jordanian people who principally and unequivocally rejected the agreement through two years of demonstrations across the country, national petitions signed by Jordanians and their political parties, trade unions and civil society organizations.
After news of the signing broke, Jordanians took to the street outside the electricity company headquarters on Tuesday to protest the deal:
On Thursday, students at the University of Jordan in Amman held a large rally against the deal:
The Islamic Action Front has also urged the government to cancel the deal. Affiliated to the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamic Action Front and its allies won 15 seats in Jordan’s parliamentary elections earlier this month, a strong showing after the group had boycotted the polls for a decade. The vast majority of members of Jordan’s previous parliament had expressed opposition to a deal. But the legislature has little power to check government policy. Jordan BDS said:
The government completely disregarded the wishes of the Jordanian people whose representatives in parliament voted in an overwhelming majority in December 2014 to reject the deal.
Despite the years of organized opposition, the final agreement was signed this week by Pindostan-based Noble Energy, which will extract the Israeli-controlled gas, and Jordan’s National Electric Power Company. Within about three years, gas is expected to start flowing from the so-called Leviathan field in the Eastern Mediterranean, one of a number of major gas finds that are disputed between Israel, on the one hand, and the Palestinians and Lebanon, on the other.
The Obama administration has actively promoted Noble Energy’s partnership with Israel’s Delek Group to extract the gas. The partnership has been forged despite concerns that it would create a powerful monopoly, inflating prices charged to industry and consumers. Pindostan has also exerted pressure on Jordan to buy Israeli-supplied gas, under the pretext that such agreements promote regional cooperation and peace. Hillary Clinton raised the matter directly with Jordan’s King Abdullah when she was secretary of state in 2011, according to the NYT. Bill Clinton has also reportedly lobbied for the interests of Noble Energy in Israel. Noble Energy, which lobbied the State Dept while Hillary Clinton was in charge there, is also a major donor to the Clinton Foundation. In the wake of the Pindo efforts, Noble Energy struck deals with two major Jordanian mining companies to buy $500m worth of Israeli-supplied gas. According to the NYT, these sales “paved the way” for the $10b deal that has just been finalized. Human rights defenders have charged that Israel’s ongoing maritime blockade of Gaza is motivated by a desire to exploit the gas fields, while depriving Palestinians of the opportunity to extract resources off their shores themselves. Tony Blair has been heavily involved in lobbying to ensure that UK and Israeli firms may exploit the Gaza gas.
Meanwhile, Turkey’s normalization of ties with Israel, which came after Ankara dropped its demand that the blockade of Gaza be lifted, is widely seen as a prelude to gas dealsbetween the two countries. Egyptian gas has been flowing to Israel for years, under deals that enriched a tiny minority while depriving the Egyptian people of billions of dollars in revenue by selling to Israel at below market prices. The Sisi regime is currently negotiating a multi-billion dollar deal to buy Israeli-supplied gas, despite the fact that Egypt itself possesses vast resources and until recently was a net exporter. Last year, Palestinian campaigners welcomed a decision by the Palestinian Authority to cancel a $1.2b deal to buy Israeli-supplied gas. They had hoped that this would put pressure on Jordan not go ahead with its own deal. The Jordanian electricity company claims the purchase agreement from Israel will save cash-strapped Jordan $600m a year. Campaigners reject the agreement on principle, but are also challenging the economic arguments. Jordan BDS said:
We question the wisdom behind depriving the Jordanian labor market of job opportunities that $10b marked for Israel in this agreement could create for Jordanians who are suffering from poverty and struggling to secure their livelihoods in an already burdened economy.
Jordanian experts have also asserted that the deal is politically motivated and makes little economic sense. Among them, economist Qasim al-Hammouri told the newspaper al-Ghadthat Jordan had better options, including developing alternative energy, importing liquefied natural gas and domestic exploration. Former energy minister Muhammad Batayneh also questioned the terms of the deal, saying Israel would be the main beneficiary. Bahjat Tabbara, a letter writer in the The Jordan Times, expressed concern that the deal would undermine the global movement for Palestinian rights. Tabbara wrote:
While most of the world is joining the boycott, divest and sanctions movement to end Israeli occupation, Jordan’s purchase of Israeli natural gas is an anomaly. How could anyone be expected to join the BDS movement when the Arab country closest to the Palestinians geographically and culturally is its largest energy export market?
Social media users have been expressing their opposition to the deal with the hashtag #غاز _ العدو _ احتلال – the enemy’s gas is an occupation.