Oct 06 2016

The gas deal

Published by at 10:33 am under Articles,Jordan

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By Daoud Kuttab

The American Noble Energy Company signed a 15-year agreement with the National Electric Power Company to ensure its supply with natural gas at the cost of $10 billion.

The gas will be coming from the newly discovered huge gas wells in the eastern Mediterranean and will most likely be piped into Jordan through the occupied West Bank, without the permission of the Palestinians.

The Jordan Bromine Company, which operates south of the Dead Sea, had signed a similar deal.

Ever since a memorandum of understanding was signed to buy the Israeli gas from the American company, many Jordanians have protested the deal.

Parliament opposed it, as well as large numbers of Jordanians, but since this is a deal with a private company, even though the government owns controlling shares in it, it does not need parliamentary approval.

At least this is what government officials say.

This leaves the Parliament with very few options to stop the deal. It would have to vote down the government, in a vote of confidence, to be able to stop this deal.

The government says that the deal is economically advantageous and will save the Treasury precious money.

A few years ago, when oil prices were at $100 a barrel and the gas pipes from Egypt were being blown up, the annual losses, covered by the government, were in the billions.

Without the ability to buy and ship liquid gas, the electricity company had to use much more expensive heavy fuel to keep its engines running, leaving the company with a debt that the government had to pay for.

But oil prices (which also affect gas costs) are now at an all-time low in world markets.

Protesters also point out the fact that Aqaba Port is now equipped to import liquefied natural gas (which can be bought in the world markets) and alternatives energy is helping reduce the pressure on the national grid.

Still, the government says that Israeli gas will be cheaper (because of proximity) than LNG bought and shipped through Aqaba and then converted back for use to help create electricity.

Furthermore, protesters argue that Jordanians are willing to sacrifice, by paying slightly higher costs, and even spend time without electricity, rather than provide a free political gift to an adversary who is occupying Arab land and who can use the gas to extract political concessions.

To prove their point, opponents of the gas deal called on the public to turn off the electricity in their homes throughout Jordan for one hour last Sunday. Many did. Another call is being made for Friday between 9 and 10pm.

Deputy Prime Minister Jawad Anani said that this act will not hurt Jordan’s public utility.

But was that the goal, or did protesters want to show that Jordanians are willing to live with a little less electricity rather than support the Israeli occupiers?

No effort was made to win over the public for this deal. The gas agreement was signed in the small window after the recent parliamentary elections and before the elected legislators are sworn in.

Even the promised consultations with the Parliament before setting up a government was not adhered to when setting up the second Mulki Cabinet.

Jordanians feel that the danger behind the deal is that it is being pushed very hard by the Americans, which erodes Jordan’s independent decision-making process.

Few believe that it is solely an issue of the US trying to support an American oil company.

The Jordan gas deal, therefore, is not simply about economics. It runs much deeper in the minds of Jordanians who feel that it is a strategic decision that goes against the international trend, which is aiming at isolating Israel for its continued occupation of Palestinian lands.

This political argument is not to be minimised.

Looking at the gas deal strictly from the prism of the money it will save the Jordanian Treasury, many argue, is failing to look at the wider geopolitical picture.

While the Palestinian leadership in the occupied territories is disjointed and lacking any strategy for national liberation, Palestinians and their supporters around the world (obviously including Jordan) are taking seriously the call of Palestinian academics and civil society leaders for worldwide boycott, divestment and sanction until Israel adheres to international law, ends its occupation of Palestinian lands and address the rights of refugee.

BDS is making important breakthroughs around the world and the Israeli government is taking this challenge seriously through pouring money and manpower to fight it.

No one is asking Jordan or the Arab countries to participate in a war to liberate Palestine anymore, but the expectation is that no Arab country should give the Israeli occupiers a free strategic gift that goes against the international trend aimed at isolating Israel.

Even without looking at the overarching issue of occupation, it is clear that Jordan is unhappy with the performance of the current Israeli government.

The continued provocations at Al Harm Al Sharif/Al Aqsa Mosque are known and the government has repeatedly lodged protests with the Israelis.

The Hashemite custodianship of Jerusalem’s holy places is known to the Israelis and is part of the Israel-Jordan peace agreement.

The Jordanian government has been angered more than once recently by the Israelis’ actions and their lack of respect for the Kerry-Netanyahu-King Abdullah agreement aimed at lowering tensions at Al Aqsa.

It is no coincidence, therefore, that the King did not attend Shimon Peres’ funeral, nor did he speak out publicly on the gas deal.

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