EastMed Natural Gas Project to Be Signed Next Week
Greece says it is moving forward on pipeline with Israel, Cyprus despite objections from Palestinians
Palestinian leaders are expressing strong objections to Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis’s announcement on December 22 that he will sign an agreement for the Eastern Mediterranean pipeline project in Athens next Thursday along with Israel and Cyprus.
Italy is expected to join the agreement later as the offshore/onshore natural-gas route to Greece is set to be connected through additional pipelines to Italy and other European nations.
Talks began in 2015 over the construction of the pipeline project, which is expected to become an important link in Europe’s energy supply network.
Last weekend, according to an official in the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office who asked not to be named, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu spoke with Mitsotakis and Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades. They agreed to hold a trilateral summit in which the three countries would sign the agreement.
“The meeting will be held as a follow-up to the leaders’ summit that took place in Jerusalem last March with the participation of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo,” the official told The Media Line.
During that summit, held on March 20, officials from Greece, Cyprus and Israel signed a tentative agreement for the pipeline. Pompeo’s presence was seen as an indication of US approval.
Netanyahu is expected to be joined in Athens by Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz, the Israeli official said.
The EastMed project is also supported by the European Union because of its importance for the diversification of Europe’s energy sources. It would supply 10% of the EU’s natural gas needs, reducing dependence on Russia.
Ammar Hijazi, assistant minister for multilateral affairs at the Palestinian Authority’s Foreign Ministry, told The Media Line that the PA’s main objection concerns the normalization of regional ties with Israel. In addition, there are objections to an attempt to exploit “Palestinian” offshore gas resources.
Greece and Cyprus “should not expand international agreements with a country that doesn’t respect international law, as the normalization of Israel’s existence in the region within the status quo is a dangerous matter and encourages continued occupation,” Hijazi said. “These countries are responsible as third parties to use their position to prevent Israel from taking advantage of Palestinian natural resources while it prevents Palestinians from using them.”
He noted that generally, when a country places itself above international law, most dealings with it are suspended until it modifies its behavior.
“Ignoring this fact about Israel indicates that these countries don’t really care about international law, which worries us [Palestinians] in terms of the borders of this project, whether Palestinian rights to natural gas resources are protected, and whether there are any terms to prevent stealing Palestinian gas through the project’s network,” he said.
Hijazi claims that the first gas fields Israel exploited were near the borders of the PA and, as such, should be shared with the Palestinians.
“This is not to mention Israel’s oil exploration in the West Bank and elsewhere, which constitutes a very dangerous matter of allowing a country to steal other people’s resources,” he added.
The official in the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office stressed that the agreement to be signed next week would constitute a continuation of the Memorandum of Understanding signed in December 2017 by the three countries, which was preceded by a preliminary feasibility study.
“The agreement will anchor the countries’ commitment to the project,” the official stated.
“For several years, government ministries headed by the Energy Ministry and the Prime Minister’s Office have been advancing this project, which will contribute to Europe’s energy security and to the prosperity of Israel and the Eastern Mediterranean,” the official added.
The EastMed’s planned 2,000-km. pipeline, which will cost between $6.6 and $7.6 billion, is expected to transport up to 11 billion cubic meters of gas annually from the Eastern Mediterranean basin reserves off Cyprus and Israel to Greece. From there, the gas will be pumped to Italy (via the Poseidon pipeline) and other countries in southeastern Europe (via the Gas Interconnector Greece-Bulgaria pipeline).
Khalel Hussien, a professor of international law, international relations and diplomacy at Lebanese University and a lecturer at Beirut Arab University, told The Media Line that the project would infringe Palestinian rights only if it traversed the territorial waters and/or the special economic zone of the Gaza Strip.
Hussien said that the Gaza Strip’s territorial waters in the Mediterranean extend from one nautical mile (about 1.15 conventional statute miles) offshore to the 12th mile, while its special economic zone ranges from the 12-nautical-mile mark to 200 nautical miles offshore.
Based on international sea law, he said that each country has full sovereignty over its territorial waters, where no other country can carry out any kind of project without the sovereign’s full approval and coordination.
As for the Gaza Strip’s special economic zone, he said there was no absolute sovereignty and while it was entitled to carry out economic projects and uncover resources there, other countries also had that right, but only with coordination.
“In the future, when an independent Palestinian state is established, if the EastMed project includes any of Gaza’s territorial waters or its special economic zone, [Israel, Greece and Cyprus] will be obligated by law to coordinate matters with the Palestinian Authority,” Hussien explained.
“If the project doesn’t include any of these areas,” he continued, “the PA has no right to accuse Israel of anything or to confront it legally.”
When asked by The Media Line about the specific route of the pipeline and the location of related equipment, Israel’s Foreign and Energy ministries declined to comment.