Jordanians rally against ‘normalization’ with Israel over gas pipeline

Despite calls to public, only small turnout at protest called by umbrella group for Jordanian unions decrying deal for Jewish state’s ‘stolen gas’

Jordanians take part in a protest in the city of Irbid against the agreement to import natural gas from Israel on July 25, 2018. (Times of Israel staff)
Jordanians take part in a protest in the city of Irbid against the agreement to import natural gas from Israel on July 25, 2018. (Times of Israel staff)

From across the country, a small but determined contingent of Jordanians arrived outside of Irbid, Jordan’s second-largest city, to protest on Wednesday an agreement to import Israeli natural gas to the kingdom.

The day was hot, the crowd small. Holding signs in blue, white and red reading “No to Normalization” and “Our Blood Isn’t Worth Gas,” the assembled demonstrators marched along the proposed route for a natural gas pipeline that would link the two countries.

Demonstrators placed red stickers emblazoned with “The Enemy’s Gas is the Occupation” along piping which, organizers said, would be used to construct the line linking the two countries.

The event was sponsored by the Professional Associations Complex, an umbrella organization for many of Jordan’s biggest labor unions. The Complex was closely involved in the Ma’anash (“We Have Nothing”) cost of living protests that toppled the previous Jordanian government this past June.

For several years now, Jordan has endured a stubborn economic recession: the price of necessities such as electricity and gas have soared, even as wages have remained stagnant and taxes have risen. The Jordan-Israel pipeline promises to bring $10 billion of natural gas to the kingdom over 15 years, saving the country’s national utility company over $300 million annually.

نظمت النقابات المهنية الاردنية الاربعاء اعتصاما في محافظة اربد لرفض البدء بأعمال مد خط الغاز الصهيوني وذلك بعد بدء العمل…

Posted by ‎مجمع النقابات المهنية‎ on Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Anti-normalization advocates speaking at the protest argued that Jordan could resolve its own problems without relying on Israel’s “stolen gas.”

Jordan, with the aid of the Complex’s technical assistance, could produce enough “solar, wind and shale energy to rid the kingdom of the need to import from the occupied lands,” declared labor leader Ahmad Zoabi. Zoabi heads the Association of Jordanian Engineers, one of the most influential labor unions in the country.

Public calls by the Complex and free transportation subsidized by unions, however, could not produce the turnout sought by the organizers. Only about 150 Jordanians gathered at the northern city.

The protest is highly unlikely to disrupt the construction of the pipeline, which is scheduled to begin exporting Israeli natural gas to Jordan in 2020.

The protest’s location and timing – at once public and hidden away – reflect the sensitivity of protesting Jordan’s relationship with Israel in the kingdom. Multiple organizers involved in the anti-normalization campaign reported that they had experienced pressure and threats from government personnel.

In this file photo taken on May 1, 2018, Jordanian King Abdullah II (and Prime Minister Hani Al-Mulki attend an official lunch meeting at the Royal Palace in Amman. Mulki resigned on June 4, 2018, after he was summoned by Abdullah over growing protests against his government’s austerity measures. (AFP PHOTO / Khalil MAZRAAWI)

The Complex’s mass protests at Fourth Circle in Amman this past summer targeted taxes and subsidies – policies under the purview of then prime minister Hani Mulki, who was constitutionally charged with the power of the purse, thus making him and his economic policies largely acceptable targets.

King Abdullah II, speaking at the University of Jordan as those Ramadan protests expanded, lauded demonstrators for “pushing from below,” which would in turn enable him to “push from above” against al-Mulqi’s tax hikes. Mulki resigned in early June.

On the other hand, questions of foreign policy – such as Jordan’s relationship with Israel – are the direct responsibility of the king.

As such, Jordanians vocally opposed to normalization with Israel tread upon much more unstable ground.

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