Jordanians stage a protest march to drop a gas purchasing agreement with Israel signed in 2016, in Amman, Jordan on January 10, 2020. (Lath Al-jnad/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Jordanian MPs to Discuss Dropping Israel Gas Deal Sunday

Lawmakers say approval process violated constitution

The Jordanian parliament will discuss on Sunday a bill to prevent the import of Israeli gas, following the $10 billion contract that went live at the beginning of January for the kingdom to buy 3 billion cubic meters per year for 15 years.

Atef Tarawneh, the speaker of Jordan’s House of Representatives, called during a session of the Legal Committee on January 12 to “intensify efforts and work toward completing the drafting of the proposal to prevent the import of gas from Israel, so that it can be presented on the House’s agenda next Sunday [January 19].”

Yahya al-Saud, chairman of the Palestine Committee in the House of Representatives, told The Media Line that the parliament would “discuss a bill to cancel the [gas] agreement, which can be voided only by a law.

“We are playing our constitutional role as deputies. The government does whatever it wants, and we have our tool under the constitution, which is to present a bill, and we will be presenting a bill [this Sunday].”

Saud added that in case the cabinet did not back the bill, there was support in the House of Representatives to “withdraw confidence from this government.”

A two-thirds vote of no confidence by the House can force the cabinet to resign.

Saud said the Jordanian street across the spectrum rejected the gas deal with the “Israeli entity,” but the government was treating it as a fait accompli. “Our role here is to come up with a draft law and send it to the cabinet; the latter decides whether to pass it or not,” he said.

Experimental gas pumping began in December, to test over three months the readiness of the infrastructure before commercial pumping begins.

Last March, the Jordanian parliament demanded that the government cancel the agreement. Speaker Tarawneh said then: “The gas agreement with the occupying enemy is rejected by parliament and the people, and the government should cancel it regardless of the decision of the Constitutional Court.”

On September 16, the court approved the gas deal and ruled that additional approval would not be needed from the legislature.

Thousands of Jordanians took to the streets last Friday to protest against the Jordanian-Israeli gas agreement and call to punish the officials responsible for signing the “deal of shame.” Demonstrators chanted: “Down with the deal of shame. … Gas of the enemy is occupation.”

Bassam al-Manaser, former head of the Jordanian parliament’s Committee on Arab and International Affairs, told The Media Line that the legislature was trying to place a populist position on the record ahead of elections later this year.

“The decision [to sign the gas agreement] was taken and it’s irreversible; the government can’t back out now because there is a penalty clause of about $1.2 billion in the case of it breaching or terminating the terms of the contract,” Manaser said.

He elaborated, “Why wasn’t this discussed in the first, second or third year of the term of the current House? Why now during its last session that ends in three months? This talk [of cancellation] is meant for the Jordanian street.”

Manaser explained that Jordanians were only unhappy with the gas agreement, but it also with difficult living conditions, including unemployment and poverty.

He added that the Jordanian government could not just decide to reverse course after the pipeline was installed and the gas pumping was begun. “The protest now is inappropriate. The parliament should have opposed the decision from the start, by withholding confidence from the government if it didn’t reject the agreement to begin with. Not now,” Manaser said.

Under the deal, which was signed in September 2016 between the Jordan’s National Electric Power Company (NEPCO) and Noble Energy − a Houston-based company that holds the largest share in the Israeli Leviathan Gas Field − Jordan is to import 250-300 million cubic feet of natural gas per day, to be used to generate approximately 40% of the kingdom’s electricity.

The Jordanian government defended the agreement, saying it would save $600 million annually in state expenditures on energy. Meanwhile, NEPCO said that the contract with Noble Energy was “the last option after the interruption of Egyptian gas supply [in 2013, due to attacks by Islamists on the pipeline in Sinai],” and noting that its accumulated debt amounted to about $8 billion (5.5 billion Jordanian dinars).

Mahmoud Kharabsheh, a lawyer and a former member of the Jordanian parliament, told The Media Line that debate over the gas agreement has been taking place since the time of the previous (2012-2016) House of Representatives. “There was a vote to prevent the government from completing this agreement with Israel, as it constitutes ‘normalization’ with it, which is popularly unacceptable,” he said.

Kharabsheh pointed out that the government back then circumvented parliament and signed the agreement away from it, “despite the fact that the Jordanian Constitution requires that the national legislature sign any agreements or treaties that cost the state treasury any expense, or which infringe the rights of the Jordanians.”

He said that the agreement had cost the state huge amounts of money and infringed on the rights of the Jordanian people that rejected it, therefore it should have been presented to the parliament for approval. “The government’s argument is that the party that signed the agreement is the [electric] company but the company is wholly owned by the state. The agreement came in response to Israeli and American pressure and it was neither in the interest of the Jordanian economy nor in the interest of the citizen,” he said.

However, Kharabsheh said that there was a way for the Jordanian government to exit the agreement without triggering the penalty clause, given that the agreement was entered into in violation of the constitution. “The constitution has precedence over any agreement. The constitution is the law,” he said.

Fida AlDeek, a Jordanian based in Amman, told The Media Line that the Jordanian people rejected both the agreement and the Israeli gas, as accepting them would constitute “a betrayal of the Palestinian people and their cause, as well as of the children of Gaza.

“We don’t want anything from the Israeli occupation. We reject it as a whole; we don’t want the occupation gas,” AlDeek said.

AlDeek added that the government bypasses the people when concluding international agreements, even when they concerned Israel, “but the parliament expresses the position of the people, especially in the current case.”

The Israeli-Jordanian relationship has been deteriorating for a few years. In January 2018, Israel triggered protests in Jordan when it declined to prosecute a security guard who, while at the Israeli Embassy compound in Amman in July 2017, killed two Jordanians after one of them allegedly attacked him. The subsequent diplomatic crisis prompted all diplomatic staff to return to Israel. A new ambassador took up the post only in April 2018.

Other incidents resulted in Israel arresting Jordanian citizens and there were perceived violations by Israel of the sanctity of Al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount. And in November 2019, King Abdullah II declined to renew leases by Israel of two parcels of land in Jordan, just over the Israeli border, that had been in effect since the 1994 peace treaty between the two countries.

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