A long-percolating plan to build a gas pipeline to the Gaza Strip, which would greatly reduce the Palestinian enclave’s dependency on outside electricity, is moving forward after a pledge of European funding for the project’s planning, the Calcalist business daily reported Monday.
Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz has instructed government-owned Israel Natural Gas Lines to finalize plans for the project, following a series of meetings on the initiative, the paper said. Funding of the planning stage, estimated at some NIS 10 million ($2.8 million), is set to be provided by European sources, probably the Netherlands, it added.
The news comes amid ongoing reports of a long-term ceasefire deal shaping up between Israel and the Hamas terror group, which rules Gaza. The pipeline has been cited in recent months as one of the alleged stipulations of the accord.
Calcalist said plans could be approved early this year, with construction completed by 2022. The pipeline’s construction is estimated to eventually cost some $60 million, though the sources of funding for construction were not cited by the paper.
The report said the project would likely be delegated to private or semi-private actors on both sides of the border, as neither Hamas nor Israel would want to officially recognize the other as legitimate sides to a deal.
The pipeline could transfer up to one billion cubic meters (35 billion cubic feet) of gas from the Negev to the Strip every year, allowing the construction and operation of local power plants that would be able to supply nearly all of Gaza’s electricity needs.
Gaza currently has a single small power plant and is dependent on the Israel Electric Corporation as well as Egypt for much of its power. The Strip has for years suffered from a power crisis, amid funding disputes between Hamas and the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority, and residents only enjoy power for parts of the day.
Plans for the pipeline have existed since 2015, but have been repeatedly hindered by cross-border violence and political considerations on both sides.
Signs have grown in recent months of a developing detente between Israel and Hamas with understandings forming on the contours of a long-term truce.
In December the Palestinian committee responsible for organizing protests in the border region between Israel and the Gaza Strip, which have been a constant source of tension and violence over the past two years, announced it was pausing weekly demonstrations and that rallies would take place less frequently in 2020.
That same month, Gaza-based news site Sawa said Israel had agreed to allow vehicle tires, buses and boats into Gaza, citing “well-placed sources” — though that report has not been confirmed by any official sources.
Israel maintains many restrictions on the movement of people and goods into and out of Gaza. Israel officials maintain that the limitations seek to prevent terror groups in the coastal enclave from importing weapons or the means to build them.
But new understandings reportedly entail Israel easing restrictions on the territory in exchange for Hamas maintaining relative quiet in the border region.
Late last month Channel 12 ran an unsourced report that Meir Ben-Shabbat, the head of the National Security Council, presented to the high-level security cabinet a proposal for a deal with Hamas.
The report said that the proposed deal would include Israel increasing the number of permits for Palestinian businesspeople in Gaza to enter the Jewish state, expanding the fishing zone off of Gaza’s coast, advancing the construction of the natural gas pipeline, and increasing medical aid and equipment for hospitals. The report also said permission Palestinians in Gaza to work in Israel was under consideration, but is facing opposition from the Shin Bet security service.
The report added that Hamas, in exchange, would increase its efforts to stop rocket fire from Gaza and rein in border protests.
For over a year, Egypt and other international parties have brokered various informal ceasefire understandings between Israel and terror groups in Gaza, including Hamas.