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Why Jordanians are protesting multibillion-dollar gas deal with Israel Open in fullscreen

Justin Clark

Why Jordanians are protesting multibillion-dollar gas deal with Israel

Friday's demonstration saw hundreds of Jordanians shout slogans against normalisation with Israel [Justin Clark]

Date of publication: 1 October, 2016

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In-depth: Hundreds of Jordanians took to the streets to demonstrate against a recently approved natural gas deal with Israel, at the end of an eventful week in the kingdom.

Hundreds of Jordanians took to the streets of downtown Amman last Friday to demonstrate against a recently approved natural gas deal between the governments of Jordan and Israel.

Holding signs reading “Gas of the enemy is occupation!” and chanting slogans like “The people want the agreement overturned”, approximately 2,000 protestors gathered in front of the al-Husseini mosque before marching through Amman’s bustling downtown area.

The deal, announced on September 26th, is set to begin in 2019 with the daily export of 300 million cubic feet of natural gas to Jordan over the course of 15 years. The agreement, valued at $10 billion, has faced sharp criticism from Jordanians.

“We’ve come here to make our voices heard, to make the government reconsider the deal.” Says Muhammad, 24, who attended the protest with his family. “It’s a matter of ethics. Even if this was the cheapest option available [for importing gas], the government should’ve looked elsewhere even if they have to pay more.”

In Jordan, some estimates put the number of citizens with Palestinian heritage as high as 70 percent. For many protesters, the deal marks a troubling trend of normalising relations between Jordan and Israel that began with the 1994 Wadi Araba peace agreement between the two nations.

“It’s surrender,” Osama, 25, told The New Arab while he marched with other demonstrators. “They stole our land, took our gas, and now they want to sell us the gas that is originally ours.”

The demonstration was organised by the National Committee for Overturning the Gas Deal with the Zionist Entity, a multi-party coalition consisting of trade unions, student groups, political parties, and several members of the Jordanian parliament.

It’s a wide umbrella bringing together an eclectic group of conservative Islamists and secular, leftist activists that have been operating since the gas deal was first proposed in 2014.

For many protesters, the deal marks a troubling trend of normalising relations between Jordan and Israel that began with the 1994 Wadi Araba peace agreement between the two nations

An 'illegal' deal

The issue began in September 2014, when Jordan’s National Electric Power Company (NEPCO) and a consortium of Israeli and American partners signed a letter of intent to export natural gas to Jordan extracted from Israel’s Leviathan gas field in the Mediterranean Sea.

The largest shareholder in the consortium is Texas-based Noble Energy, with other prominent partners being Israeli Delek Group and Avner Oil exploration.

Though it remains to be fully developed, the Leviathan field is one of the largest discovered reservoirs of natural gas in the region with an estimated 500 billion cubic feet of natural gas remaining untapped. For Israel, it presents an opportunity for the country to become a regional powerhouse in energy exports and transform the country’s relationships with its neighbors.

For Dr. Hisham Bustani, head coordinator for the campaign against the gas deal, the agreement is a dangerous and unnecessary move.

“The deal gives Israel enormous power in the region and an upper hand on Jordan. It effectively hands Israel $10 billion and locks us in a contract for 15 years. “ Bustani told The New Arab.

That’s $10 billion from Jordanian taxpayers to support the Israeli occupation. Furthermore, the gas from Israel is to be sold at above market prices – more expensive that the gas imported from Shell at Aqaba.“

While the last proposal was shot down by Parliament with an overwhelming majority, the Jordanian Parliament is currently not in session following the September 20th general elections

A sleight of hand?

For Bustani and others opposed to the gas deal, it is not merely a matter of a deal they find unfair. Many are accusing the Jordanian government of announcing the agreement strategically.

While the last proposal was shot down by Parliament with an overwhelming majority, the Jordanian parliament is currently not in session following the September 20th general elections.

Even if the Parliament were in session to vote on the deal, it’s argued is that despite being Jordan’s national energy company, NEPCO is technically privately owned – and therefore can make agreements with international companies without consulting parliament.

The campaign, however, points out that Article 33 of the Jordanian constitution requires that matters affecting the Jordanian populace must come to a vote.

“It’s not just an agreement between two parties – electricity affects all citizens. Tax money from citizens will fund Israeli state terror, and every time they turn on a light they will be relying on electricity coming from Israel.

Bustani went on to tell The New Arab that the agreement “was signed without consent of the people. It’s an illegal deal.”

A day before the deal was officially announced, divisive writer and secular activist Nahed Hattar was assassinated in front of the Palace of Justice in Amman

A busy week for Jordan

More than the parliament being out of session, Jordan has been hit with an usually eventful news week. A day before the deal was officially announced, divisive writer and secular activist Nahed Hattar was assassinated in front of the Palace of Justice in Amman en route to a court hearing regarding charges brought against him for offending religious sensibilities with a political cartoon he shared on Facebook.

Along with Hattar’s killing, ongoing protests against controversial secular reforms in government school curriculums have gripped the national dialogue. These recent events have contributed to pitting conservatives and liberal reformers against one another in a troubling fashion.

Even Friday’s protest was affected – when a demonstrator grabbed the microphone and launched into a speech about the “martyrdom” of Hattar, it prompted some in the audience to chant in opposition to the organisers. The debacle culminated with a rock being thrown at the pickup truck leading the procession, forcing police to intervene and end the protest after just a half hour.

The incident pushed one Islamist group to announce that they backed out of the demonstration in protest of the Hattar issue being raised.

Dr. Bustani and his campaign plan to organise further demonstrations in the future, and to formally the government for circumventing the constitution and signing the deal without the consent of Jordanian citizens

An enduring struggle

Dr. Bustani and his campaign plan to organise further demonstrations in the future, and to formally the government for circumventing the constitution and signing the deal without the consent of Jordanian citizens.

They’ll also push for an anti-corruption committee to investigate the government in the hopes of preventing such moves looking forward.

Despite organisational hiccups, many remained cautiously optimistic. After the protest, local activist Osama told us “If everyone left their homes and took to the streets, standing as one against the deal we could stop it.”

“People need to get off the couch and out of their homes – just do something!” said Fadwa Hamdan, a Palestinian-American attending the demonstration with her three children.

 “We’re still raising our voices and trying to get the word out. That is the solution – there must remain people who have hope, especially young people.  As a mother I care for my kids, and I want them to keep [working on this issue].”

“If the people remain quiet,” cautions Hamdan. “We’ve lost.”

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