Jordanians take to streets over Israeli gas deal

Taylor Luck

The National  /  January 27, 2020

Jordanian MPs claim deal forces normalisation with Israel on every household.

Jordanians have taken to the streets over an unpopular Israeli gas deal that has pitted Parliament, the government and citizens against each other.

At the start of January, Jordan began importing gas from the Israeli liquid gas field of Leviathan as part of a 15-year deal with US-Israeli company Noble Energy, which was signed in 2016.

Yet hundreds of Jordanians have protested in downtown Amman each Friday against the deal, even in rain, sleet and minor flooding.

They say they do not want to see their country become reliant on a politically belligerent Israel, which is dismissive of a two-state solution for the Palestinians.

The weekly protests feature chants such as “No to enemy gas”, and call on Jordan to reassert its sovereignty.

The agreementwhich was pushed through by the government and signed between state-owned National Electric Power Company and Noble Energy, was not ratified by parliament, which has voiced criticism over the deal.

Last week, Parliament passed a unanimous, unbinding resolution demanding the government “stop gas imports from Israel”, in an unusual showdown between the elected Parliament and the government, which is appointed by the king.

The government said it would review the motion.

Jordanians are now pressing the government to back out of the deal and to end all ties with Israel and the peace treaty between the two nations.

“After 25 years of peace, all we have is a neighbour that does not respect us, imprisons Jordanians and Palestinians, and has done everything in its power to prevent a Palestinian state or peace in this region,” said Ahmed Saad, 40, an engineer.

“Israel has not honoured its agreements with us and now they will use this gas deal to blackmail Jordan by shutting off the taps.

“This is no way to live for a country that is advocating for the Palestinians on the world stage.”

The placard reads: “We will not mortgage ourselves to the occupation, and we will not be complicit in the crime”. Reuters

Jordanian parliamentarians say the deal forces normalisation with Israel on every household.

As of Sunday, more than 40 per cent of Jordan’s energy mix contains Israeli gas, a proportion that is reportedly set to increase in the coming weeks.

As Nepco, the Jordanian state power company, is only the electricity provider, there is no alternative for those who wish to avoid supporting the deal by going “off grid”.

But the government has defended the deal, claiming the reliable import of natural gas at competitive prices for 15 years will stabilise energy costs in Jordan.

The country imports 96 per cent of its energy needs and has been at the mercy of international oil markets for the past decade.

The government claims the deal is expected to save about 700 million Jordanian dinars (Dh3.63 billion) over the period, and improve the country’s international standing and ability to comply with IMF loan conditions.

“There is nothing technically wrong with the deal; the issue is Israel,” said Oraib Rantawi, director of Al Quds Centre for Political Studies in Amman.

“The question Jordanians are demanding is, how are you strengthening the dependency on Israel when you are expecting a more confrontational relationship based on policies in the West Bank, violations of Jordanian custodianship of holy sites in Jerusalem, talks of annexation and a far-right shift in Israeli politics?”

Jordan’s King Abdullah II said ties with Israel were at a low and official co-operation had been essentially frozen over the past few years.

“Moving the dialogue back between the Israelis and Palestinians is essential, and moving the dialogue back between Israel and Jordan, which has been on pause for the past two years, is essential,” King Abdullah told France24 this month.

Meanwhile, Jordanian officials are bracing themselves for the release of US President Donald Trump’s peace deal, which Amman had not yet seen.

Jordanian officials been vocal opponents of the US recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, the decision to stop funding of the UN’s agency that aids Palestine refugees, and Israel’s intended annexation of the Jordan Valley.

They consider the potential reach of the impending peace deal as a matter of national security.

Yet as Jordan prepares to reject aspects of Mr Trump’s plan, the Israeli gas deal is increasingly becoming a political liability.

“This gas deal will become a lightning rod of criticism and rejection of not only Israel, but the government,” Mr Rantawi said.

“We see the Israeli right have the final say on Israeli domestic policy and foreign policy, and openly threaten Jordan’s national security.

“So why did they sign this deal? This is a gap between the people and the state that will only grow.”

The anti-Israeli gas campaign, which since 2014 has grown into a national movement, said the government made a mistake in pushing the deal through.

“The gas deal is an attempt to force normalisation with Israel, which never went beyond the government-to-government level, on to the Jordanian people who have resisted it for decades,” says Hisham Al-Bistani, a leader of the campaign.

The protest movement is a coalition of leftists, nationalists, tribalists, unionists and the religious.

It is telling the Jordanian people that the gas deal represents “treason”, because it gives Israel another way to push Jordan to acquiesce to its action in the occupied territories and Jerusalem.

“The government is warning us each day of the violations Israel is making in the occupied territories and holy places in Jerusalem and with settlement building, yet we are supposed to accept the fact that we rely on gas from Israel,” Mr Al-Bistani said.

“Now we are seeing the cost of surrendering a strategic sector to Israel. The government has handed them an opportunity to walk all over us at a time when they are threatening our national security and the Palestinian cause.”

In a call in to a radio talk show on Sunday, Jordanian Prime Minister Omar Razzaz said any the US peace deal “will not affect the resilience of Jordan and Jordanians”.

“There is a national consensus among the leadership and people on our national principles that no one can break,” Mr Razzaz said.

“It is important that we fortify ourselves politically and economically to rally in the face of any attempt to touch our political, economic and social security.”

Taylor Luck regularly contributes to The National