Dismissing public discontent, Jordan is moving forward with a controversial natural gas pipeline deal with Israel.
The 2016 deal provides for a new gas pipeline to be built between the two countries, through which Israel will export 45 billion cubic meters of natural gas to Jordan over 15 years, at a total cost of $10 billion. If all goes according to plan, gas will begin flowing in early 2020.
The 40-mile pipeline would carry natural gas from Israel’s offshore fields into northern Jordan, where it would connect to the extensive Arab Gas pipeline that runs from Egypt’s Port Said to northern Syria. The Israeli gas would then be transported to Jordan’s gas-fired power generation plants. Jordan is facing chronic energy shortages and currently imports as much as 95 percent of its energy. If the deal goes through, Israeli natural gas could provide up to 40 percent of Jordan’s energy.
While Amman insists that the pipeline will save hundreds of millions of dollars a year on Jordan’s energy bill, the public is largely opposed to the deal. Many see it as a waste of taxpayer money and a “normalization” of relations with a neighboring country that many consider an occupying, “enemy” power.
Between 20 and 30 percent of Jordan’s population is Palestinian, mostly refugees who fled to the country during the wars that created Israel in 1948 and their descendants. Like much of the populace of the Arab world, many Jordanians support the Palestinian cause.
However, in contrast to the people, the Jordanian state has not always backed the Palestinian cause. Two decades ago, Jordan signed a peace treaty with Israel, much to the public’s chagrin. Although originally welcoming of Palestinian refugees in the 1940s, Jordan has, in the past four decades, been less than generous in its hospitality. A flawed color-coded ID card system has resulted in many Palestinian-Jordanians being stripped of citizenship.
Opponents of the pipeline deal equate such an economic agreement with Israel with support of Israel’s occupation of and military aggression against Palestine. One opposition organization calls itself “The Enemy’s Gas is the Occupation” and rejects Jordan’s purchase of “stolen gas,” saying it funds “Israeli terrorism.”
Widespread protests are calling for Jordan to halt the deal, which activists also see as making Jordan vulnerable to political pressure from Israel. With Israel providing a crucial portion of Jordan’s gas, Jordan could be crippled if Israel decides to cut the supply, which it could theoretically do at any time, for any reason.
Jordanian officials claim that the deal will not make Jordan dependent on Israel, nor does it diminish its opposition to Israeli occupation. They also insist that there are no other options for sourcing natural gas, an assertion opposition activists reject, pointing to Iraq and Qatar as potential sources.
Trade unions, political parties and local landowners and activists have joined forces to oppose the project and plan legal action, reports Al-Monitor. They say that the pipeline is not, as Amman claims, in the “public interest,” but will rather put Jordan at risk. Parliamentarians have demanded that the government clarify and publicize the deal’s terms and conditions. Prime Minister Omar Razzaz has not capitulated to such demands.
A Jordanian company recently halted a shipment of sand when it found out that it would be used in the construction of the Israel-Jordan pipeline. A company official declared, “We refuse to work with [Israel] or with anyone working with it and we are against any normalization [of relations].” Activists have lauded the company’s decision and urged Jordanians not to sell their land to the government.
Amman has made plans to expropriate 85 acres and lease 150 acres of property from landowners whose land is located on the proposed route for the underground pipeline. Farmers in the border region near the Jordan River report that Israel has already begun construction of the pipeline on its side of the border.
Jordanian land seizures and pipeline construction would destroy “blooming citrus trees” and “productive farms that are the source of living for farmers and their families,” according to a local farmer interviewed by Al-Monitor. Jordan has not been clear about the level of compensation for the land seizures. Local landowners are concerned that they will receive inadequate compensation and retain inadequate acreage of land to sustain their livelihoods.
Those opposed to the deal also advocate for the development of domestic renewable energy as a viable alternative. The $10 billion that would be spent on Israeli gas could be spent on wind and solar instead, they argue.
In the Arab world, Jordan ranks third in the Middle East for renewable energy (after Morocco and Egypt), according to a 2018 study by a German organization. A representative of the organization said, “Jordan is considered one of the Middle East’s most promising clean energy markets,” and has significant potential to harness its abundant wind and solar energy to increase its energy security and decrease its reliance on foreign suppliers, especially one as controversial as Israel.
This deal is not the first to link Israel and Jordan economically, nor does it solely involve these two countries. Jordanian state-owned chemical corporations signed a deal in 2014 to import Israeli natural gas, with the assistance of an American company, Eastern Mediterranean Marketing, acting as an intermediary. In the current, much larger pipeline deal, Jordan is technically buying the gas from Noble Energy, a U.S. company based in Houston, Texas. Noble is the largest shareholder in the Israeli natural gas field that would supply Jordan’s needs. Israel would, however, profit financially from the deal.
Egypt, Jordan’s neighbor across the Red Sea, has also done business with Israeli gas companies. A submarine gas pipeline, jointly operated by American, Israeli, Egyptian, and Thai gas companies, has linked Israel and Egypt since 2008. Also unpopular with the public, it exported Egyptian gas to Israel for several years, until Cairo cancelled the contract in the wake of the Arab Uprisings and after numerous attacks on the pipeline.
While Egypt still owes Israel and the pipeline operating companies around $2 billion in damages for breaching the contract, stakeholders nevertheless struck a new deal to restart the pipeline and reverse its flow, handing over control to an Israeli-Egyptian-American consortium and allowing Israel to export its natural gas to Egypt. The Israeli gas to be shipped to Egypt would come from the same offshore field that would supply gas to Jordan.
At the same time, Jordan — which also imported Egyptian natural gas until attacks halted operation of the pipeline — has plans once again to import Egyptian gas. Amman maintains that the combination of Israeli and Egyptian natural gas will be sufficient to meet the country’s future energy needs. Whether Jordanian public outcry will be sufficient to prevent the deal remains to be seen.