While its citizens take to the streets demanding a ceasefire, the silence of Europe’s leaders is deafening. Allyship runs deep, apparently, although their weak calls for “humanitarian pauses” are ignored by the Israeli state which has rained down more bombs on Gaza in the past weeks than in the years combined. Over 8,000 are dead, unable to escape the onslaught as hospitals and refugee camps are targeted. Amnesty International estimates more children have been killed in Gaza than in the past year in every other conflict zone.
Still, Biden and his European pets champion Israel’s right to defend itself, suggesting the Palestinian Health Authority is inflating the numbers of their dead. The UN can only squawk while international law is revealed, yet again, to be upheld only when enemies break it, as Israel cuts off water, food, electricity and the internet to 2 million people trapped in the world’s biggest open-air prison, delivering collective punishment for the heinous crimes of Hamas on October 7.
But while bombs rain down, business continues as usual, with Israel granting 12 licences to six companies to explore for natural gas off the country’s Mediterranean coast on October 30th. This is the latest venture to exploit one of several gas fields discovered on the Mediterranean coast over recent decades, aiming to solve Israel’s energy dependency and, crucially, Europe’s supplies.
The total oil and gas reserves were valued at a staggering $524 billion in 2019. But Israel does not have sole legal entitlement to the $524 billion, according to a UN report published in the same year. Not only is some of the $524 billion sourced from within the Occupied Territory of Palestine, much of the rest sits outside national borders in the deep sea, and thus should be shared with all relevant parties. The report questions the national right to these resources given they took millions of years to form—and that Palestinians occupied the whole territory until Israel’s recent formal creation.
The authors also note it is another war crime for the occupying power to deny the citizens the right to use their own natural resources, including diverting Palestine’s water supply, cutting off access to their fisheries, grabbing agricultural land and destroying olive groves. The financial costs are massive. “To date, the real and opportunity costs of the occupation exclusively in the area of oil and natural gas have accumulated to tens, if not hundreds, of billions of dollars.”
Why share when you can export?
The USA’s and EU’s allyship with Israel has been steadfast since the state’s creation in 1948, with agreements strengthening ties ever since. In June 2022, under pressure to find another source of gas since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the EU signed a Memorandum of Understanding with a different colonising force to import gas from the Leviathan gas field. This gas field, the biggest of recent discoveries, holds 22 trillion cubic feet in recoverable natural gas and could meet Israel’s domestic demands for 40 years.
The USA went one further, creating a USA-Israel energy cooperation agreement which stipulates that “United States-Israel energy cooperation and the development of natural resources by Israel are in the strategic interest of the United States”, promising to assist Israel with “regional safety and security issues”.
Natural gas is seen as a resource to “positively impact regional security”, which is policy jargon for building trading bridges with neighbouring Arab countries. Egypt began importing gas from the Leviathan field in 2020, and signed the MoU with Israel and the EU last year.
Natural gas, or “LNG” is being used as a political ploy around the world to deepen political relationships and economic interdependence as the world shifts from oil not out of morality but simply because oil reserves are running dry. Branded as a transition fuel by everyone from fossil fuel chiefs to the French President, LNG is the darling fossil fuel with 40% less carbon dioxide emissions than coal (a low bar), and 125 years of global supply in current reserves.
The USA, the world’s biggest producer and exporter of LNG, is banking on the energy transition going gassy before it goes green. 20 new LNG terminals, transporting gas from Southwest’s Permian Basin, are expected to be approved by Biden’s administration this year. Bookmarked for exports, analysts say the greenhouse-gas emissions associated with it would be twenty times larger than those from the oil drilling at Willow, the much-protested new oil field in Alaska.
Gas is the currency to curry political favour. In 1999, Gaza almost did just that.
Gas in Gaza
In 1999, BG Group (BGG) discovered a large gas field between 17 and 21 nautical miles off the coast of Gaza. According to the Oslo II accords, the Palestine National Authority has maritime jurisdiction up to 20 nautical miles off of Gaza’s coast. In November 1999, the PNA signed a 25-year contract for gas exploration with BGG.
The reserves were estimated at 1 trillion cubic feet and would meet Palestine’s demands and allow for exports. Ehud Barak, Israel’s Prime Minister at the time, approved authorisation for BGG to drill the first well in July 2000. They struck gas gold. Palestine and Israel began to negotiate and the deal was seen to benefit both Israeli demand and Palestinian supply.
However, a change in Israeli leadership soured the deal, with Ariel Sharon’s government allegedly driving the rejection of a supply deal between the Palestinian gas field and the state-owned Israel Electric Corporation. In May 2002, the UK’s then-PM, Tony Blair, got involved and Sharon agreed to negotiate an agreement for the annual supply of 0.05 trillion cubic feet of Palestinian gas for a period of 10 to 15 years.
However, he changed his mind in 2003 stating that the funds could be used to support terrorism.
Ehud Olmert’s government, spurred on by the new PM, agreed to reopen negotiations with BGG in April 2007. Starting 2009, Israel would purchase 0.05 trillion cubic feet of Palestinian gas for $4 billion annually, creating a good atmosphere for peace, it was argued.
However, the 2007 Battle of Gaza in which Hamas took control of the strip changed the deal once more, with Hamas looking to increase the original 10% Palestinian share in the BGG deal. An Israeli team of of negotiators was set up by the Government of Israel to formulate a deal with BGG, bypassing both the Palestinian government and PNA, effectively nullifying the contract signed in 1999 between BGG and PNA. However, in December 2007, BGG withdrew from negotiations with the Israeli government.
In June 2008, the Israeli government recontacted BGG to urgently renegotiate the deal. The UN report states: “The decision to speed up negotiations with BGG coincided, chronologically, with the planning of an Israeli military operation in Gaza, whereby it would appear that the Government of Israel wished to reach an agreement with BGG prior to the military operation, which was already in an advanced planning stage.”
Israel’s invasion of Gaza in December 2008 brought the Palestinian gas fields under Israeli control—without regard for international law. BGG has been dealing with the Israeli government ever since. The UN estimates billions of dollars in loss for the Palestinian people.
But more gas for everyone else.
The situation in Palestine is more complex than the location of gas fields, but geopolitics and geology map similar courses. In the EU, demand for ally-approved gas is higher than ever, perhaps fueling the audacity to champion Israel’s war crimes whilst decrying Russia’s own. As for the USA, a network of pipelines is a network of dependents who are less likely to threaten hegemony if their own energy depends on the USA’s 51st state. Through all of these calculations, Palestinians are being murdered—another externality of petrostates which will never be taken into account by our current leaders.
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