As Iran continues to grab the headlines coming out of the Middle East, the Obama Administration is said to be quietly pushing Israel to soften its stance on Gaza to relax its vice-like grip on the border crossings, in order to ease the growing humanitrian crisis.
Any diplomatic initiative by Obama that lessens the suffering of the Gazan people has to be welcomed with a degree of urgency, especially in relation to the blockade of food and medicines.
Just as food and medicines shortages are deemed critical, so is the supply of energy, with much of the Gazan infrastructure said to be at breaking point, leading to routine power blackouts.
In order to help rectify this, earlier this month, an Israeli construction team finished work on a new pipeline for the transfer of fuel and natural gas from Israel to the Gaza strip. This is a crazy situation because it should be the Gazans who are exporting gas to the Israelis and not the other way around.
An estimated 60 percent of the gas reserves along the Gaza-Israel coastline actually belong to Palestine. Currently, British Gas (BG Group) and its partner, the Athens based Consolidated Contractors International Company (CCC) hold the oil and gas exploration rights to the whole of the offshore Gazan marine area, the rights to which were signed in a 25 year agreement in November 1999 with the Palestinian Authority. Reserves are estimated by British Gas to be of the order of 1.4 trillion cubic feet.
Back in May 2007, the Israeli Cabinet approved a proposal by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert “to buy gas from the Palestinian Authority”. The proposed contract was for $4 billion, of which one billion was to go the Palestinians.
However the Israelis have been out to scupper this deal and take the gas reserves for their own.
Writing in Alternet recently Noam Chomsky noted how new attacks by Israeli naval vessels against Gazan fishermen “began shortly after the discovery by the British Gas group of what appear to be quite sizeable natural gas fields in Gaza’s territorial waters. Industry journals report that Israel is already appropriating these Gazan resources for its own use, part of its commitment to shift its economy to natural gas.”
Chomsky quotes Platt’s Commodity News, from February this year saying that “Israel’s finance ministry has given the Israel Electric Corp. approval to purchase larger quantities of natural gas from BG than originally agreed upon, according to Israeli government sources [which] said the state-owned utility would be able to negotiate for as much as 1.5 billion cubic meters of natural gas from the Marine field located off the Mediterranean coast of the Palestinian controlled Gaza Strip.”
Chomsky adds that “The pillage of what could become a major source of income for Palestine is surely known to US authorities” and could be one of the reasons behind the recent Israeli invasion into Gaza.
Chomsky is not the only academic who believes this. Michel Chossudovsky is a Canadian economist and professor of economics at the University of Ottawa. Writing earlier this year he argued that “the military invasion of the Gaza Strip by Israeli Forces bears a direct relation to the control and ownership of strategic offshore gas reserves. This is a war of conquest. Discovered in 2000, there are extensive gas reserves off the Gaza coastline.”
He continues: “the issue of sovereignty over Gaza’s gas fields is crucial. From a legal standpoint, the gas reserves belong to Palestine … however, the death of Yasser Arafat, the election of the Hamas government and the ruin of the Palestinian Authority have enabled Israel to establish de facto control over Gaza’s offshore gas reserves.”
Chossudovsky argues that the decision to speed up negotiations with British Gas (BG Group) by the Israelis coincided, chronologically, with the planning of the invasion of Gaza initiated back in June 2008.
He argues that “the military occupation of Gaza is intent upon transferring the sovereignty of the gas fields to Israel in violation of international law.”
If Obama is serious about building peace in the Middle East he has to make sure this does not happen.