Exclusive: Hamas 'to allow' development of Gaza Marine natural gas, amid US-brokered negotiations between PA, Egypt and Israel
Hamas, the Islamist Palestinian movement which runs the Gaza Strip, said it would allow in principle the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority to develop the natural gas field off the coastal enclave upon the successful conclusion of US-brokered negotiations involving Israel, Egypt and partner companies that would oversee the gas exploration and extraction, signalling a potential breakthrough in the complex and sometime secret negotiations.
In return, Hamas would receive a share of the revenues, but it is not clear what guarantees Israel is demanding, which could complicate a deal.
“Hamas is waiting for the final procedures that would be adopted by the Palestinian Authority, Egypt and partner companies to start their implementation plan to develop the [Gaza] Marine field and extract natural gas,” a source close to Hamas, told The New Arab on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter.
The indirect collaboration with the Palestinian Authority (PA) was the outcome of extensive and intricate negotiations with Egypt to address the humanitarian crises in Gaza caused by the illegal Israeli blockade and repeated attacks on the coastal enclave.
In an effort to alleviate the impact of Israeli wars and the blockade, the source said, "our Egyptian brothers have proposed improving the economic situation in both Gaza and the West Bank...and exerted pressure on the Israeli occupation to grant us (Palestinians) the opportunity to develop our offshore gas resources".
The source told TNA, “Based on the negotiations with Egyptians, the PA is the only Palestinian entity recognized internationally and it will receive the revenues from the gas marine in Gaza. This is why we decided to accept to allow it to develop marine in favour of developing the situation in Gaza.”
Negotiations are currently taking place under American auspices between Egypt, Israel, and the Palestinian Authority regarding the management of Gaza’s gas, which would be operated jointly between Cairo and Tel Aviv, with Hamas and the PA receiving part of its revenues, according to another source close to Hamas, who asked not to be named due to the sensitivity of the matter.
Ismail Radwan, a Gaza-based Hamas official authorised to speak to the media, declined to comment on the purported breakthrough but told TNA that "Gaza’s gas is owned by all Palestinians in Gaza and they alone have the right to invest in it (…) Israel occupation cannot impose its requirements and restrictions on our capabilities and natural wealth".
Radwan stressed that Hamas as well as all other factions, including Fatah, have the right to decide how they would invest in their gas in a way to develop the economic and political situations for their people.
The Lebanese model?
Enter Israel: On Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's approved the development of the Marine natural gas field off the coast of Gaza, according a statement from his office.
Announcing the move on the Gaza Marine project, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said progress would hinge on “preserving the State of Israel’s security and diplomatic needs.”
Israeli outlets said that the new Israeli decision came after intense and complicated negotiations between Israel, Egypt and the PA, after it allegedly received guarantees that Hamas will not use its share of the gas revenues to develop its weapons. Echoing this, the source close to Hamas told TNA that “Israel announced its decision once it received real guarantees from Egypt that Hamas is ready to sign a long-term truce with Israel.”
Israel's Channel 13 reported that the approval was preliminary and the implementation of the project will require "coordination between the security agencies and direct dialogue with Egypt in coordination with the PA in a bid to develop the Palestinian economy and maintain security stability in the region.”
According to the Israeli channel, Hamas will not be allowed to benefit from the economic profits until resolving the issue of the four Israeli captives in Gaza since 2014.
The PA has not been officially informed of the Israeli decision, according to a Ramallah-based official who asked not to be named because he is not authorised to speak to the media.
“We cannot adopt a position or start any practical preparations based on media reports,” the PA source stressed.
In 2000, British Gas and its partners discovered a gas field 36 kilometres west of Gaza City.
Later in the same year, the company drilled two wells there, Gaza Marine 1 and Gaza Marine 2, and estimated potential gas reserves at around 1.4 trillion cubic feet.
Palestinian officials said these quantities would provide enough energy for the Gaza Strip and the West Bank for 15 years, though it is possible some of its would be geared for export.
The negotiations involving non-state actor Hamas echo the US-brokered negotiations and eventual deal in Lebanon, where Lebanese militant group Hezbollah had to also indirectly greenlight a deal between the Lebanese government and Israel.
While the parties signal some progress has been made, a deal may be years away due to the complexity of security and political guarantees that need to be made both publicly and in secret.