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Israel’s natural gas windfall in Europe is bad news for Palestinians - By Joseph Dana, Syndication Bureau

 

 

In its quest to secure new energy supplies, Europe is on the verge of transforming the Middle East’s longest-running conflict. The Ukraine war and the decoupling of Europe’s reliance on Russian natural gas has led EU member states to frantically look for new energy sources. The recent news that Germany is firing up long-dormant coal-powered plants is a significant setback for years of positive growth in the green energy sector. Coal will mitigate some energy concerns, but it cannot replace Europe’s need for natural gas. The continent is looking to kickstart Israeli natural gas imports, and this subsequent cash windfall for Israel could transform its relationship with the Palestinians forever.
 
 
 
More than a decade ago, Israel discovered several sizable natural gas fields in the Eastern Mediterranean. Since then, the gas fields have been the source of ongoing controversy and geopolitical intrigue. Turkey was the first country to express serious interest in Israeli natural gas. Despite verbose rhetoric from Ankara over Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians, Turkey wanted to become a key conduit of Israeli gas into Europe in its quest to reshape itself as a hub nation for hydrocarbons.
 
The Turkish-Israeli deal required a complex pipeline that would have had to navigate Greek, Cypriot, and possibly Lebanese waters. By the end of 2018, the Turkish pipeline project fell apart and was quickly replaced with a new $7 billion EastMed project that would connect Israel’s offshore fields to Greece through Cyprus and Crete.
The EU is Israel’s most important trading partner, and activists supporting the Palestinian-led boycott of Israeli companies see Europe as a critical battleground.
As I wrote in 2019, the pipeline was meant to deliver 10 billion cubic meters of gas per annum to energy-hungry markets in the EU, “which will bring in billions of dollars for Israel, Greece, and Cyprus while providing lower gas fees for northern customers who have been dependent on Russia and other Middle East countries until now”. The US ended its support of the EastMed pipeline in January but the bones of the deal appear to form the basis of a new agreement between Europe, Israel, and Egypt.
 
The Ukrainian conflict accelerated these efforts to find a solution. Last week, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said that the EU was preparing two “major” energy infrastructure projects to increase energy links with Israel. The projects include a gas and hydrogen pipeline in the eastern Mediterranean and an underwater power cable linking Israel to Cyprus and Greece.
 
The announcement came amid a flurry of activity, including a visit by Italian
 
Prime Minister Mario Draghi to Israel for energy talks with his Israeli counterpart and a landmark memorandum of understanding between Israel, Egypt, and Europe. The deal will see Israel export natural gas to Egypt, where it will be liquefied and sent to Europe. The memorandum of understanding paves the way for the first Israeli gas exports to the EU.
 
There are still several significant challenges in the Eastern Mediterranean’s natural gas landscape. The Karish gas field between Israel and Lebanon continues to be a flashpoint. Israel claims the field lies in its UN-designated exclusive economic zone, but Lebanon says the area is disputed. US-mediated talks between Israel and Lebanon have failed to reach a settlement as the militant group Hezbollah said this month that it would “act” if Israel began to drill in the disputed area before an agreement was made.
 
Beyond the question of territorial disputes, the imminent arrival of Israeli natural gas in Europe will rekindle more significant concerns over the EU’s relationship with Israel. The EU is Israel’s most important trading partner, and activists supporting the Palestinian-led boycott of Israeli companies see Europe as a critical battleground.
With recent normalization agreements in the Arab world, Israel is showing the world that it can maintain its brutal domination over the Palestinians while making new allies and getting rich from its bountiful natural gas reserves.
Over the past decade, boycott activists have successfully pressured European companies to end business relationships in Israel. For example, the French company Systra pulled out of the Jerusalem light-rail project, while the British security company G4S ended its business in Israel. Such victories are meaningless in the face of a massive natural gas deal that will see Israel’s fortunes skyrocket. Will there be a major backlash to the slew of new Israeli natural gas deals from European civil society? With so much focus on Russia’s actions in Ukraine and the subsequent end of Russian natural gas supply, it is unclear if there will be fresh discussions about what Israeli natural gas means for Europe’s commitment to human rights.
 
Israel is on the verge of a cash windfall unlike any other in its brief history. This infusion of capital will radically transform its relationship with the international community over the ongoing occupation of Palestinian land. With recent normalization agreements in the Arab world, Israel is showing the world that it can maintain its brutal domination over the Palestinians while making new allies and getting rich from its bountiful natural gas reserves. The immediate effect will be the maintenance of the status quo and the expansion of Israel’s settlement project in the West Bank. The long-term impact of these developments, at least from a Palestinian perspective, is anything but hopeful.
 
 
The writer is the former senior editor of Exponential View, a weekly newsletter about technology and its impact on society. He was also the editor-in-chief of emerge85, a lab exploring change in emerging markets and its global impact.
 

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