In Gaza more than half the territory’s population living below the poverty line and cost $16.7bn in lost GDP annually. This figure does not account for the huge opportunity cost of preventing the Palestinian people from using their natural gas field off the shores of Gaza.
The Israeli government has established de facto control over Gaza’s offshore natural gas reserves. In commandeering and exploiting Palestinian oil and gas resources, Israel is acting in violation of the letter and the spirit of the Hague Regulations, the Fourth Geneva Convention and a body of international humanitarian and human rights law that addresses the exploitation of common resources by an occupying power, without regard for the interest, rights and shares of the occupied population.
A recent study by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) points out that new discoveries of natural gas in the Levant Basin in the Eastern Mediterranean are in the range of 122 trillion cubic feet, while recoverable oil is estimated at 1.7 billion barrels.
These reserves offer an opportunity to distribute and share about $524bn among the different parties in the region. The revenues from these resources are currently going only to Israel.
The Israeli military occupation of Palestinian territories and the blockade of the Gaza Strip have prevented the Palestinian people from exercising any control over their own fossil fuel resources, leaving the Palestinian economy on the verge of collapse.
The 1995 Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement on the West Bank and Gaza Strip, known as the Oslo II Accord, gave the Palestinian Authority (PA) maritime jurisdiction over its waters up to 20 nautical miles from the coast. The PA signed a 25-year contract for gas exploration with the British Gas Group in 1999, and a large gas field, Gaza Marine, was discovered at 17 to 21 nautical miles off the coast of Gaza the same year. However, despite initial discussions between the Israeli government, the PA and British Gas on the sale of gas from this field and the provision of much-needed revenue to the occupied Palestinian territories, the Palestinians have not realised any benefits. British Gas, has since been dealing with the Israeli government, effectively bypassing the Palestinian government regarding exploration and development rights.
The Paris Protocol on Economic Relations, permits Israel control of Palestinian monetary policy, borders and trade. UNCTAD estimates that, under occupation, the Palestinian people have lost $47.7bn in fiscal revenues over the 2007-2017 period, including revenues leaked to Israel and accrued interest. In comparison, the Palestinian government’s development spending over the same period was approximately $4.5bn.
The economic costs inflicted on the Palestinian people under occupation are well documented: tight restrictions on the movement of people and goods; the confiscation and destruction of property and assets; loss of land, water and other natural resources; a fragmented domestic market and separation from neighbouring and international markets; and the expansion of Israeli settlements.
UNCTAD estimates that it would cost a minimum of $838m per year to lift Gaza’s population out of poverty. Access to oil and gas revenues would provide the Palestinians with sustainable financing to invest in long-term economic reconstruction, rehabilitation and recovery. The alternative is for these common resources to be exploited individually and exclusively by Israel, and to become another trigger for conflict and violence.
Meantime, Israel has allowed a limited resumption of commercial exports from the besieged Gaza Strip in what it called a “conditional” measure, one month after a truce halted an 11-day bombing offensive. The easing also included the resumption of postal services in and out of Gaza. Too late, however, for the Pepsi bottling plant which said it was closing and laying off 250 workers because raw materials needed to stay in business were being obstructed.