Is grab of gas and oil resources a reason for displacing people of Gaza?

Natural Gas Platform Israel LNG

In recent days the death of at least 22,000 people and enormous other distress including the displacement of a vast majority of the people of Gaza have been caused as a result of the highly disproportionate response of Israel to the terrible attack by Hamas on October 7, 2023.

While several aspects of this tragic situation have been widely discussed, perhaps one aspect which should have received more attention relates to the oil and gas reserves of the region as a motivating cause of this entire tragedy, just as oil and gas resources have been an important factor in several earlier tragedies of this region.

A study by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) has provided very useful background information in this context and has been extensively quoted. This study is titled ‘The Economic Costs of the Israeli Occupation for the Palestinian People—The Unrealized Oil and Natural Gas Potential’. This study was made as a part of studies and technical papers on Palestine.

This study says—Geologists and natural resources economists have confirmed that the Occupied Palestinian Territory lies above sizeable reservoirs of oil and natural gas wealth, in Area C of the Occupied West Bank and the Mediterranean coast off the Gaza strip. However occupation continues to prevent Palestinians from developing their energy fields so as to exploit and benefit from such assets.

This study has stated that the accumulated losses resulting from this amount to billions of dollars.

Further this study states—the new discoveries of oil and natural gas in the Levant basin, amounting to 122 trillion cubic feet of natural gas at a net value of $453 billion (in 2017 prices) and 1.7 billion barrels of recoverable oil at a net value of about $71 billion, offer an opportunity to distribute and share a total of about $524 billion among the different parties.

So what this report is saying is not that the entire resources should belong only to Palestine, but on the basis of the principles of international law and sharing common pool of resources, these should be shared and used in a very fair way to end poverty and deprivation among the Palestinian people, in Gaza as well as in the West Bank.

However if the people of Gaza are displaced on a mass scale by bombing their land on a massive scale and to a large extent indiscriminately, then a situation may emerge in which the people of Gaza are no longer in place to claim their rights to these resources. This is precisely what appears to be happening in recent times.

More recently, reports in several newspapers of Israel and other neighboring countries have also appeared that the Israeli establishment are also considering the possibility of sending several people of Gaza to distant areas. In this context the transfer to the Congo has been particularly mentioned, with reports mentioning attempts being made to reach deals with this and other countries. To give an example The Times of Israel reported on January 3 in a report titled ‘Israel in talks with Congo and other countries on Gaza ‘voluntary migration’ plan’—Netanyahu told a faction of Likud Party “our problem is (finding) countries that are willing to absorb Gazans, and we are working on it.”

However there have been some denials too and the USA has stated that it does not support such displacement.

On the whole it is clear that there has been a big push in recent times by Israel to either move a big share of the people of Gaza towards the border with Egypt, or elsewhere.

A question that needs to be asked is—is this also part of a larger design to grab all benefits of gas and oil reserves while denying the due share to the Palestinians?

Here it may be added that after the Oslo accords the Palestinian Authority had gone ahead with the exploration and tapping work in terms of contract with a reputed company. However later due to increasing domination of Israel the commercial interests started inter-acting more and more with Israel.

With Europe’s need for gas increasing with the sanctions on Russia and the sabotaging of Nord Stream, the profits to be made from tapping the gas and oil reserves and exporting to Europe have increased considerably.

Could this be one of the factors behind the entire chain of recent tragic events, resulting in entirely avoidable loss of human lives among the Palestinians as well as Israelis?

As is well-known by now, there was such amazing neglect of repeated intelligence received from internal as well as external sources by the Israeli security establishment (including neglect of repeated reports sent by Israeli women surveillance officers regarding Hamas training camps close to the fence) that suspicions of deliberate neglect of received intelligence have arisen. Hence a possible sequence could have been—allowing a terrorist attack with the prior plan to use it as a pretext for such a disproportionate response that most people of Gaza are displaced in such a way that their rights to their resources are even more difficult to realize, while Israel can go ahead with using the oil and gas resources for its economic gain, including exports to Europe and elsewhere. This is only one of the several possible explanations of the extremely tragic events here which have thrown up several big questions. These need a fair and unbiased investigation for the truth to be known with certainty.

However the policy recommendation should be definitely only for justice-based sharing of resources for the common benefit of the people of Palestine and Israel. There should be only restrained exploitation of fossil fuels keeping in view the considerations of climate change, and whatever is tapped should be shared equitably, but with a somewhat higher share for the Palestinians keeping in view their higher levels of poverty and the enormous injustice suffered by them in the past at many levels. If only the forces of peace can assert on both sides, there is enough for everyone to share and live happily and peacefully with mutual cooperation, but the forces of aggression and grabbing are not allowing the people to live with peace and cooperation. As Mahatma Gandhi would have said, earth has enough for meeting the needs of all, but not for greed. Greed and grab only lead to aggression and war, as we have seen time and again.

Bharat Dogra is Honorary Convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now. His recent books include Planet in Peril, Protecting Earth for Children, Man over Machine and A Day in 2071.                     


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