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After years of talks, a plan to provide Israeli gas to Gaza nears approval

EU wants to allocate at least $5 million to the project, while Qatari envoy says Doha will fund construction of part of a gas pipeline inside Israel

Palestinian boats participate in a protest against the Israeli-Egyptian security blockade of Gaza, in Beit Lahya on the border with Israel in the northern Gaza strip on August 11, 2018. The Israeli Rutenberg power station can be seen in the background. (AFP PHOTO / MAHMUD HAMS)
Palestinian boats participate in a protest against the Israeli-Egyptian security blockade of Gaza, in Beit Lahya on the border with Israel in the northern Gaza strip on August 11, 2018. The Israeli Rutenberg power station can be seen in the background. (AFP PHOTO / MAHMUD HAMS)

An agreement to provide Israeli natural gas to Gaza in an attempt to solve the coastal enclave’s electricity crisis is likely to be approved within the next six months, Qatari envoy Mohammad al-Emadi said in a statement on Sunday.

Gaza has suffered from a chronic electricity deficit for more than a decade. The coastal enclave has only one power plant — which runs on imported diesel fuel — and experiences daily blackouts of between eight and 12 hours.

Transitioning Gaza from diesel fuel to natural gas is widely viewed as an important solution to the enclave’s electricity crisis. Talks on a natural gas pipeline have been in the works for years, without a clear timeline for success; the pipeline is expected to connect Gaza’s power plant to an Israeli offshore power station.

“There are two contracts here: one is the purchasing of the gas, between the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli Delek corporation. The other contract is to place a gas line,” al-Emadi said.

The natural gas in question is expected to come from the Leviathan field off the coast of Israel, according to a Delek spokesperson. Delek will also take charge of laying a transmission system for the pipeline.

It was not clear whether Delek would be paid out of the Qatari treasury, as Qatar does not have formal relations with Israel. Delek declined to comment further.

The Qatari envoy to the Gaza Strip, Mohammed al-Emadi, speaks during an interview in his office with AFP in Gaza City on August 24, 2019. (Mahmud Hams/AFP)

With Israel’s approval, Qatar since 2018 has periodically provided millions of dollars in cash to Gaza’s Hamas rulers to pay for fuel for the Strip’s power plant, fund infrastructure projects, and provide aid to tens of thousands of Gazan families.

Al-Emadi, who regularly travels between Israel, Qatar, and Gaza, bearing cash and messages from Doha, has since served as an unofficial broker between the three sides. He traveled to Israel and the Gaza Strip last week for the first time in several months to provide a new round of aid and meet with Israeli and Hamas officials.

According to al-Emadi, the use of natural gas, rather than relatively more expensive diesel fuel, will dramatically reduce the cost that the Palestinian Authority and Qatar pay in fuel subsidies to the coastal enclave.

“The pipeline will reduce the [annual] cost of electricity from $22 million to less than $10 million,” al-Emadi said.

The European Union has allocated $5 million to pay for part of the pipeline, although it has yet to be finalized. Qatar will pay to set up the pipeline within Israeli territory, al-Emadi said.

“The importance of this project is not just that it will to a large extent allow catering to the energy demands of the Gaza Strip. It will also help power the Gaza desalination plant, ensuring access to clean water for many Gazans,” said Sven Kühn von Burgsdorff, the European Union’s envoy to the Palestinians.

Sven Kuhn von Burgsdorff (C), head of the European Union’s mission to the West Bank and Gaza Strip, along with other EU representatives, visits a desalination plant in Deir al-Balah in the central Gaza Strip on December 8, 2020. (SAID KHATIB / AFP)

Contrary to reports in Israeli media, however, no agreement has yet been officially signed between Israel, Qatar, the European Union, and the Palestinian Authority to provide natural gas to Gaza, Kühn von Burgsdorff said.

He said he hoped the agreements would be finalized “within the next few months.”

“All these parties want to move forward on this,” Kühn von Burgsdorff said in a phone call.

In a statement, Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz said the anticipated agreement would “reduce regional air pollution.”

“Any agreement made to provide natural gas from Israel to the Gaza power plant is being done with our full coordination,” Steinitz said in a statement.

Al-Emadi said he expects the pipeline to be completed within the next two to two and a half years. While Kühn von Burgsdorff was more hesitant to provide a timeline, he expressed optimism that the long-awaited project could be finalized in the coming months.

“Everything needs to fall into place in the next few months,” he said. “We’re looking forward to formalizing the interests and undertakings of the four parties. We expect progress, because it’s in the interest of everyone.”

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