Jordan-Israel gas deal triggers protests
AMMAN, Jordan - A chilly autumn breeze disturbed the sunshine on a recent afternoon as 100 Jordanians gathered outside the Professional Association’s Complex here to protest Jordan’s decision to purchase natural gas from Israel’s offshore Leviathan reservoir.
Two men in their 20s led the protests from the back of a truck carrying both Palestinian and Jordanian flags. “No [Israeli] Embassy or ambassador is welcomed here,” shouted one of the men to the crowd, as they repeated his chants. “Get out you despicable [ambassador].”
“We reject buying Palestinian gas, which was stolen by the Zionist state,” said Khaled Ramadan, one of the protesters.
Protesters carried placards reading “Hell is better than Israeli gas” and “Jordanians refuse to fund Israeli weapons”.
“They are killing our sisters and brothers in Palestine, and they violated every single humanitarian law,” said protester Sufian al-Ahmad, a 28-year-old graphic designer.
A 15-year agreement
The protest was one of several held across Jordan since the government signed a letter of intent in September with US company Noble Energy to purchase 1.6 trillion cubic feet of Israeli gas in September. The signing date for the final agreement has not been set yet.
Jordanian officials have hailed the 15-year deal as an answer to the country’s energy woes. It will save the country $992mn annually and reduce losses at the National Electric Power Company (NEPCO), which are expected to be as high as $1.8bn by the end of 2014, the officials said.
Despite these alleged benefits, 75 of Jordan’s 150 parliament members signed onto a petition opposing the deal in recent weeks.
“This deal will pump around $8bn to Israel’s budget, which we know will either be for building further settlements or weapons to kill our brothers in Palestine,” said deputy Jamal Gamouh.
“They had no respect towards Jordan’s custodianship over al-Aqsa mosque,” Gamouh said, in reference to recent violence on the al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem, which triggered diplomatic tension between Jordan and Israel.
In November, Jordan took an unprecedented move by recalling its ambassador in Tel Aviv, Walid Obiedat, in protest over the situation. According to officials, Obiedat has not returned to work yet.
Given the tenuous political situation, opponents have also warned that Jordan is taking a big risk by depending on Israeli gas for the next 15 years. “We should learn from the past and search for alternatives instead of placing ourselves under the mercy of a country like Israel,” said local environmental activist, Basel Burgan.
Jordanian Minister of Energy and Mineral Resources Mohammad Hamed did not respond to repeated Middle East Eye requests for comment.
Regional politics influence energy options
Jordan, which imports 97 percent of its energy needs, has faced a serious energy crisis due to ongoing political unrest in the region. Before the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, Jordan relied on free or subsidised oil from Saddam Hussein’s regime.
A deal with Egypt filled the gap for some time, but things changed after the ousting of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in 2011; the main pipeline supplying gas to Jordan came under regular attacks from the Egyptian side, interrupting the supply.
According to Burgan, renewable energy could provide an alternative to Israeli gas and a sustainable solution to the country’s energy crisis. “We can light up Jordan by utilising sun energy in 300 kilometers in the southern region,” he said, adding that “the government is not serious at implementing alternatives”.
Senator and economist Jawad Annani said the Jordanian authorities tried to negotiate other deals with Cyprus and Gaza, but the Israeli deal proved to be the cheapest. “We have to be logical and not emotional when examining this,” Annani told Middle East Eye.
“Jordanians will have to consider paying higher bills [electricity] if they wanted a more expensive gas deal," Annani said.
But protesters like Ramadan remained unconvinced, and said the government was “implementing" the goals of its international allies. “They are absolutely not concerned about what is going on inside Jordan, but rather, [they are] keen to make the Zionist state a partner in the regional economy,” he said.