Gas deal breathes life into Jordan boycott movement
Last Friday, hundreds of Jordanians from civil society movements, parliament, political parties and labour unions marched towards the prime minister's building with the slogan "The enemy's gas is occupation".
The demonstrators were demanding the annulment of the letter of intent (LOI) signed by the state-owned National Electric Power Company (NEPCO) and Noble Energy, a Houston-based company, to import natural gas from the Israeli-controlled east Mediterranean Leviathan field.
|The enemy's gas is occupation.
- Jordanian protestors
The LOI paves the way for an agreement worth US$15 billion that spans a 15-year period. According to Keith Elliott, Noble Energy's Senior Vice President, Eastern Mediterranean: "This LOI and other recent regional export arrangements are advancing the first phase of development at the Leviathan project." Which is why Israel's current export strategy is focused on closing deals with Jordan and then Egypt.
Talk of the intended deal surfaced in September last year, one month after the Israeli attack on Gaza that left over 2,100 Palestinians dead and 11,000 injured. That in turn fuelled a huge campaign by Jordanian activists who quickly mobilised against the agreement.
Hisham Bustani, an activist from the Masar Taharuri initiative which is a member of the "Coordinating Committee for Groups Opposing Importation of Gas from the Zionist Entity", considers the gas deal more dangerous than the Wadi-Araba treaty signed in 1994.
"The treaty is between political elites that have limited influence on the people while the gas generates electricity that will reach every citizen's home."
For Bustani, this means normalisation will become part of Jordanians' daily livelihood.
One of the committee's initial actions was to commission a study in partnership with energy expert Mika Minio-Paluello from the Platform Research Center. The study has uncovered that the Israeli government's share from the intended deal would be at least US$8.4 billion, equivalent to the cost of three future wars against Gaza (the last war on Gaza cost 2.52 billion dollars).
Another active member of the committee is Jordan BDS, a movement also formed in the wake of the last attack on Gaza. The movement held a very successful event in January, hosting Dr Mads Gilbert, the Norwegian surgeon who worked in Gaza's al-Shifa hospital during the attack. They used the hype of the event to talk about the upcoming protest and distributed leaflets explaining some facts about the gas deal.
|The study has uncovered the Israeli government's share from the intended deal would be at least 8.4 billion dollars.|
The committee also organised awareness campaigns and press conferences, held a series of protests and demonstrations, and deployed new methods for exerting influence such as phone banking, to calling MPs urging them to vote against the proposed gas deal. This culminated in parliament's lower house dedicating two sessions to discuss the issue last December during which 107 MPs presented their remarks. The lower house collectively recommended shelving the planned natural gas deal, according to the Jordan Times.
What is noticeable in this case is how grassroots forces in Jordan initiated the action, in a spirit similar to the one we saw during the Arab Spring in 2011. The committee initially started as a collective effort of civil society movements who reached out towards other active forces in Jordan such as the professional associations, which spearheaded the anti-normalization movement of the 1990’s.
At that time, the Jordanian professional association was a driving force towards the formation of the "Jordanian Anti-Normalisation Popular committee" under which opposition parties, politicians, professionals and civil society organisations operated. The ant-normalisation committee exposed dealings with Israel by publishing the "List of Shame" and encouraging boycotts of those working with Israel. The efforts of the committee were solidified on the ground in January 1997, as they succeeded in mobilising an estimated 4,000 people to demonstrate at the Israeli trade fair held in Amman.
A paper published by Al-Urdun Al-Jadid Research Center (UJRC) on the Role of Civil Society Institutions in Resisting Normalisation with Israel evaluates that phase saying: "The Jordanian government was ready during the first period of the anti-normalisation committee's action to resist them by force; but with the passage of time and with the declining interest of the people in the action of these committees owing to their own internal differences and their resort to intellectual terrorisation methods, blackmail, and intimidation instead of attractive awareness, have reduced the momentum of government's rush in resisting them."
The momentum of the current event is reviving the boycott movement in Jordan, however, and unifying different factions to work towards a clear goal, to stop the gas deal gas. New campaigns are forming in the governorates, and the gas campaign has gone international with activists in the UK, US, and South Africa calling for the gas deal to be cancelled.
Khaled Ramadan, a political activist who was part of the anti-normalisation movement at the height of its activity, thinks the new boycott movement is more relevant to our time; to him the old tools no longer work.
"The popular movement that started in 2011 hasn't ended, it is still in its beginning phase. The citizen has left the space of silence."