[Gaza City] The Palestinian Authority’s sovereign wealth fund and the state-owned Egyptian Natural Gas Holding Company (EGAS) signed a memorandum of understanding in Ramallah to develop the Gaza Marine offshore gas field and its necessary infrastructure.
At the signing meeting on Sunday, Mohammad Mustafa, chairman of the Palestine Investment Fund and PA President Mahmoud Abbas’ adviser on economic affairs, and Egyptian Minister of Petroleum and Mineral Resources Tarek El Molla stressed the importance of strengthening Egyptian-Palestinian cooperation on energy and natural resources, particularity natural gas.
The Gaza Marine gas field, which was discovered around 1999 by British Gas, is in Palestinian territorial waters. The field, located about 22 miles offshore at a depth of 2,000 feet, contains an estimated 1 trillion cubic feet, or about 33 billion cubic meters, of natural gas.
This cooperation with Egypt will have a major impact on the energy sector in Palestine, “specifically in finding a radical solution to the energy crisis afflicting the Gaza Strip, and supplying the Jenin power plant [in the West Bank] with gas, which will contribute to strengthening Palestinian national independence,” the Palestine Investment Fund noted on its website.
However, Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, said the PA was acting in an authoritarian manner.
“Our people have the right to know how the authority behaves on major issues because precedent confirms that it acts without the slightest degree of transparency, and determines its actions and relations based on narrow partisan and factional interests,” Hamas spokesperson Hazem Qassem said on Wednesday.
But the fierce verbal battle kicked off on Tuesday, when Moussa Abu Marzook, deputy chairman of Hamas’s Political Bureau, tweeted: “Gaza must be present in any understandings about the gas fields on its shores. If Gaza is forced to import natural gas from the occupation [Israel] for the only power plant in the strip, then we should not stand by while our natural resources are exported to far-off lands. We need to know the details of the agreement that was signed with the Investment Fund.”
Agreements are signed between countries, not with factions and organizations
PA Civil Affairs Minister Hussein al-Sheikh fired back, tweeting: “… I say that agreements are signed between countries, and Palestine is a member of the EastMed Gas Forum!! Agreements are signed between countries, not with factions and organizations.”
Munir al-Jaghoub, the head of Fatah’s Information Department in the Office of Mobilization and Organization, also tweeted: “Mr. Abu Marzook, who has lost, underestimated and abandoned the real wealth of the Gaza Strip – the youth – and pushed them to death and suicide over many years? It is not permissible today to talk about even a gas canister on its way to Palestine.”
The tense relations between the two large Palestinian parties, Fatah and Hamas, might seem ominous as the Palestinian elections approach, but analysts believe it will not affect the chances of the May 22 legislative and July 31 presidential votes taking place.
Analyst and political researcher Mansour Abu Krayyem told The Media Line that: “Hamas considers the Gaza Strip, with all its resources, its private property after it managed to establish its rule using many methods during the period of division.”
He added that Hamas and Fatah are both resigned to going to elections “because it will bring tactical gains for both. The [Palestinian] Authority, on the one hand, sees elections as a way to renew its legitimacy after it deteriorated. Hamas, on the other hand, wants to reposition itself in the Palestinian political system.”
Abu Krayyem also suggested that Palestinian elections will not be affected by internal disagreement because the voting “is not only an internal Palestinian issue but mainly a regional one.”
However, Mostafa al-Sawwaf, a Gaza-based political analyst, believes there is only a 50-50 chance elections will be held.
“All indicators on the ground say that Fatah is not ready to engage in elections,” he told The Media Line. Fatah is the party of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, and rules the West Bank.
Sawwaf added: “The authority has no right to make agreements about the Palestinian people’s wealth without consulting them. This is in the Palestinian Basic Law. Also, the decree ordering the respect of freedom of expression was issued a couple of days ago, but where is it on the ground? Have we seen any tangible changes? I personally think there will be no elections as long as there are no personal liberties.”
It’s extremely laughable that both Hamas and Fatah are talking like they really care about us. If there is any chance this project can make a difference, then let it go ahead! We’re tired of our miserable existence
Most Gazans, however, pay little attention to the arguments of the two parties, concerned mainly with the hardships of day-to-day life.
“It’s extremely laughable that both Hamas and Fatah are talking like they really care about us. If there is any chance this project can make a difference, then let it go ahead! We’re tired of our miserable existence,” Kareem, a Gazan citizen, told The Media Line.
The more than 2 million Palestinians in the tiny coastal enclave live under suffocating conditions, mostly because of the Israeli-Egyptian blockade and the resulting economic, health and power crises.
The Gaza Strip gets 180 megawatts of electricity at best – 120 from Israel via power lines, and 60 from Gaza’s sole power plant, while it would need an estimated 500 megawatts to supply 24-hour service to all residents. Power cuts can reach 20 hours a day, according to the Gaza City-based Palestinian Center for Human Rights, leaving people to do without or resort to costly and sometimes dangerous generators.
The power plant runs on diesel fuel but a recent proposal called for it to be converted to run on natural gas, imported through a pipeline from Israel.
“The de facto authority here in Gaza has failed to solve the power crisis. … This reflects negatively on all aspects of life, including the economy and living conditions, which has forced people and business owners to find alternatives that have cost millions of dollars over the past years,” Gaza-based economist Mazen Alijla told The Media Line.
Using safe generators costs nearly triple the price of electricity from the distribution company, he added.
“Most people can’t afford this heavy expense, and therefore have resorted to cheaper and, in most cases, less safe ways to obtain electricity,” Alijla said.
In the first nine months of 2020, more than 30 people, most of them children, died as a result of fires caused by the electricity crisis in the Gaza Strip, according to the Palestinian Center for Human Rights.
Alijla is skeptical regarding the chances of the Gaza Marine gas field going into production.
“I’m not totally convinced that the Palestinian Authority will be able to start using the gas field, because this is a red line for Israel, which has prevented that happening for years,” he said.
Yet on Wednesday, an official Palestinian source, who asked to remain anonymous, said the PA “had received positive signals from the Israeli side regarding the possibility of developing the Gaza Marine gas field, off the shores of the Gaza Strip in the Mediterranean.”