Will the Israelis allow the Palestinians to exploit their own oil?
[Does Palestine need permission from a hostile foreign country -or any foreign country- to do so? – ed.]
20 March, 2014 The Economist
Ramallah – Confident of striking oil in the rocky hills of the West Bank, Palestine’s government is to tender a concession for exploration around Rantiss, a village north of Jerusalem near the armistice line that separated Palestinian territory from Israel in 1967. “We would net $1 billion over a decade,” says President Mahmoud Abbas’s economic adviser, Muhammad Mustafa, who expects to launch a tender imminently. He points to commercial production by an Israeli company, Givot Olam, which is drilling just inside Israel, tapping the same reservoir.
But a series of obstacles dogs exploration, as Mr Mustafa, who is also Palestine’s deputy prime minister responsible for the economy, admits. Israel’s military administration, which oversees the West Bank, has not yet given approval for exploration, and the field, says Dror Etkes, an expert on Israeli settlement expansion in the West Bank, lies inside an Israeli-declared military zone. Under Israeli-Palestinian agreements dating back two decades, Israel exercises full control over the predominantly rural swathe of the West Bank known as Area C, which accounts for 62% of the occupied territory (excluding the Gaza Strip). Israeli hardliners are pressing to annex Area C, which includes Rantiss.
Some Israeli officials also fear that an influx of capital into Palestine would empower it in its struggle against Israel’s occupation. Israel has impeded the development of a gasfield in a bigger concession off Gaza’s coast that the Palestinian authorities awarded to British Gas over a decade ago. A World Bank report estimated in October last year that Palestine’s economy would soar by a third if it were able to exploit Area C and other riches offshore.
Mr Mustafa’s decision to explore Area C without Israeli approval may bolster a Palestinian campaign to recover the territory’s raw materials and to develop its agriculture, both of which Israel has exploited for the past 45 years. A host of Western powers, including the so-called Quartet that groups together the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations, have given the Palestinians their support. The Quartet’s representative, Tony Blair, a former British prime minister, has prepared an eight-point plan to spend $12 billion to regenerate the Palestinian economy, with an emphasis on tourism, farming and the mineral exploitation of Area C. But without the Israeli military administration granting easier access and permits, the Palestinians’ oil is unlikely to flow soon.