A significant breakthrough has emerged as the Hamas authorities in the Gaza Strip have expressed their willingness, in principle, to grant the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority (PA) access to a natural gas field off the Gaza coast.
This groundbreaking development comes as part of a US-brokered deal that involves the PA, an Egyptian gas company, and Israel. If the plans proceed, the potential benefits are far-reaching, holding the promise of bolstering the economy and improving living standards in the besieged Gaza Strip.
Moreover, this agreement opens up the possibility of indirect negotiations between Hamas and the Israeli occupation, following a path similar to the recent developments in neighboring Lebanon. Notably, Hezbollah has given its approval for the Lebanese government to engage in talks with Israel over maritime demarcation lines, while asserting the country’s rights to its natural resources and threatening the use of force to secure it. It appears that Hamas may now be inclined to adopt a pragmatic approach, mirroring Lebanon.
Israeli green light for Gaza gas field
In parallel with the Israeli government’s decision to delegate enhanced powers to pro-settler Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, aimed at expediting settlement procedures, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office announced on 18 June, preliminary approval for the development of the Gaza Marine gas field.
According to the prime minister’s office, the move will place emphasis “on Palestinian economic development and maintaining security stability in the region.”
The approval paves the way for the Egyptian EGAS company to assume responsibility for the administrative and technical aspects of gas exploration, with plans to transport the gas to the Damietta station for liquefaction and subsequent export to Europe and beyond.
Notably, the agreement between Egypt, the PA, and Israel was announced in October 2022, pending Israeli approval, which has now been granted. However, the announcement did not address the share of the Gaza Strip governed by Hamas, who have remained silent on the matter. Analysts attribute this silence to a potential understanding between Hamas leadership and Egypt regarding a positive approach to the agreement.
One policy for Gaza, another for West Bank
This development poses a challenge as the resistance factions in Gaza have previously warned against any agreement that deprives the Strip’s residents of their rightful gas revenues. One Palestinian official was quoted by Reuters as saying: “We are waiting to know what exactly the Israelis have agreed to in detail. We can’t make a position based on a statement to the media.”
Hamas official Ismail Rudwan was also quoted by the news agency as saying: “We reaffirm that our people in Gaza have the rights to their natural resources.” In a rally held last September under the slogan “Our Gas is Our Right,” the factions expressed their firm stance on the matter, raising concerns about the potential repercussions.
Suhail al-Hindi, a member of the political bureau of Hamas, commented on the matter on Arabi21, saying: “In no way can Gaza be absent from this natural wealth, and every Palestinian has the right to benefit from the country’s wealth, including this field, with emphasis that the Palestinian people have the right to obtain this gas.
Al-Hindi stressed that “the Israeli occupation cannot be allowed to steal Palestinian wealth, and besieged Gaza has the right to live like all cities in the world, and for our people to enjoy their natural wealth.”
Discovered in 1999, the Gaza Marine gas field holds significant reserves, estimated at 1.1 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. The British Gas Group and its partners, Consolidated Contractors Company (CCC), were granted a gas exploration license by the PA. Located 603 meters below sea level, approximately 22 miles west of Gaza, the field has a production capacity of 1.5 billion cubic meters annually over a span of 20 years.
Map of gas fields east of the Mediterranean Sea
Economic analyst Muhammad Abu Jayab tells The Cradle that the US implicitly agreed to provide part of the revenues from the Gaza Marine field to Hamas, which explains why the latter did not comment on the recent agreement. According to Abu Jayab “Egypt is at the forefront as a guarantee that Hamas will deal positively with the agreement, due to Cairo’s influence on the Palestinian factions.”
Nevertheless, the Israeli approval of the Gaza Marine gas field agreement comes at a sensitive time, especially for the resistance factions, as it coincides with the establishment of over 5,000 new illegal settlement units in the face of escalating tensions in the occupied West Bank. Israeli security warnings about the potential consequences of right-wing policies and international opposition, including from the US, further compound the situation.
Plans like the E1 proposal, which connects the Ma’ale Adumim settlement with occupied Jerusalem, and effectively bifurcates the West Bank, have garnered significant criticism due to their potential to impede any future prospects for the so-called two-state solution.
Calm before the storm
Sources close to the decision-making circles of the resistance factions inform The Cradle that the Israeli approval serves as a bargaining chip to buy restraint and non-interference from Gaza Strip resistance groups in events unfolding in the West Bank and Jerusalem.
However, from the perspective of the resistance factions, the cost Israel demands exceeds the economic gains, as recent actions by Hamas underscore its commitment to prioritize resistance over financial incentives.
Mustafa al-Sawaf, a political analyst close to Hamas, tells The Cradle:
“The attack on Eli settlement, which was carried out by two members of the al-Qassam Brigades [armed wing of Hamas] on 20 June, came in response to all attempts to buy calm and silence. It was a clear message from Hamas to all regional and international parties not to dream of exchanging resistance for economic gains.”
Lessons from Lebanon
Meanwhile, political researcher Ismail Muhammad points out that all regional and international parties realize that there is no possibility of bypassing Hamas in the gas file. He explains to The Cradle that:
“The resistance in Gaza was inspired by Hezbollah’s experience in imposing its conditions and obtaining Lebanon’s rights in the Karish field. It sent clear messages, that whatever the pressures, it will not accept being an idle witness while the country’s wealth is stolen before its eyes. The most important conclusions of the Lebanese experience are that investment needs calm, and that none of the Arab or international companies will operate under the threat of fire. At least by disabling it. The resistance possesses the military capabilities that enable it not to bomb the gas fields, but rather to disrupt work in them at least.”
Gas deals: A tool for dividing Palestinians
Politically-speaking, Israel’s pursuit of gas agreements carries broader political implications beyond immediate security concerns. Political analyst Ziyad Abu Ziyad believes that Israel is leveraging these agreements to foster internal Palestinian divisions.
Egypt’s assumption of management responsibilities for Gaza Marine, in the absence of Palestinian reconciliation, and Israel’s refusal to demarcate the maritime borders with the PA, “reminds us of the solution that Israel previously proposed to the Palestinian leadership: a Palestinian state without borders.”
This approach focuses on improving the Palestinians’ economic situation by harnessing their own resources, essentially implementing an economic solution to the conflict without addressing its underlying political dimensions.
The occupation state’s approval of gas extraction from the Gaza Marine gas field has exposed the delicate balance between geopolitics, security, and economic interests in the region. As resistance factions draw inspiration from past experiences and assert their conditions, the path forward remains uncertain, casting doubt on the regional stability that Netanyahu’s office claimed would be maintained with the extraction approval.