Top security officials have held deliberations on the potential development of natural gas fields off the Gaza Strip’s coast, as part of recent meetings between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, Israeli television reported Friday.
According to Channel 13 news, the discussions are being led by National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi and Maj. Gen. Ghassan Alian — the military’s liaison to the Palestinians — after getting the green light from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant.
The network did not specify when the internal talks were held, but described them as linked to summits held in Egypt and Jordan earlier this year. Following the meeting at Sharm el-Sheikh in March, which focused largely on de-escalating tensions, Israeli and PA officials said they agreed to work toward improving the economic conditions of the Palestinian people as well as the financial situation of the cash-strapped PA, which would benefit from the development of the Marine 1 and 2 fields located some 30 kilometers (19 miles) off Gaza.
The sides have held sporadic negotiations on the matter over the years but failed to reach an agreement due to numerous hurdles. Along with Israeli objections and other disputes, the PA has exercised no control over Gaza since being ousted from there in 2007 by the Hamas terror organization, which now controls the coastal enclave.
The television report said among the issues raised in the deliberations is that as the PA is not a state, Israel wants Egypt to be in charge of the effort. It also noted the difficulties resulting from Hamas’s rule over Gaza.
An unnamed Israeli official quoted in the report said any agreement with the PA would likely generate public backlash in Israel, citing two Israeli soldiers killed fighting in Gaza during the 2014 war whose bodies are still being held by Hamas — which would not be a party to the deal.
Israel has been updating the Palestinians, United States and Egypt on the discussions, with a senior Israeli official saying the latter two expressed support while the former was skeptical in light of years of talks on the matter that have come to naught.
In an interview with Channel 13, Hanegbi acknowledged he was “involved” in the matter, but insisted “there will be nothing concerning infrastructure development” in Gaza until the bodies of soldiers Oren Shaul and Hadar Goldin are returned. Hamas also currently holds two living Israelis — Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed.
“We can talk and make plans so they understand the cost of the loss. It’s not only the matter of gas, there is infrastructure that the whole world is ready to bolster in Gaza. We won’t allow this until the boys are returned,” he said.
The report on the possible development of natural gas off the Strip came after Israel engaged in over a day of fighting with Hamas and the fellow Gaza-based terror group Palestinian Islamic Jihad this week, sparked by the death of a prominent Palestinian Islamic Jihad member while on a hunger strike in an Israeli prison.
On Israel’s response to the Palestinian rocket fire, Hanegbi said he believed “there’s deterrence” and blamed Hamas for the flareup.
“There’s a complicated game between Hamas and Islamic Jihad and sometimes Hamas lets it ‘vent its frustration,’ like this time,” he said. “Hamas allowed it with a wink and therefore the Israeli [response] was powerful.”
AFP contributed to this report.