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15 Adar II 5760 - March 22, 2000 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Barak Permits the PA to Drill for Gas Off of Gaza

by Yated Ne'eman Staff

Minster of National Infrastructure Eliyahu Suissa has expressed his opposition to the decision of the Prime Minister to grant the Palestinian Authority a permit to conduct gas drilling off the shores of Gaza, especially since this is an area which, according to international treaties, is not under the control or possession of the Palestinian Authority.

Barak's granting of the permit was revealed with the termination of the production tests at the Meri One drilling site opposite the Ashkelon beach. This is the largest natural gas discovery ever made in Israel, and the gas reserves found there are estimated at 45 billion cubic meters. This amount of gas can meet Israel's needs for 15 years, according to current estimates.

During the debate about a proposed Gas Law, Suissa discussed to the permit Barak gave the Palestinian Authority, and said that he had done so against Suissa's recommendation and against the recommendations of those authorized to decide on the issue. He noted that even though according to the Treaty about International Waters the sea shelf adjoining a state belong to it, the Palestinian Authority is not defined as a state and therefore does not enjoy this right.

Suissa demanded that the Palestinians be prevented from signing a concession with the British Gas Company in order to conduct drilling off the Gaza shores, but be required to act only in conjunction with Israel. Arafat has already received 40 million dollars from British Gas for the concession. This drilling is supposed to take place 20 kilometers outside of Israel's territorial waters but an area that is still within Israeli security control.

According to the energy experts, any gas found by British Gas will have to be marketed to Israel. The gas can be delivered economically only if pipelines are laid directly from the well to the customers. Since the Palestinian market for gas is very small in relation to what can be produced, the only market in range that can absorb such amounts is the Israeli market.

As a result it is difficult to understand the what made Barak act in such a way as not to ensure efficient cooperation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. They also noted that the British Gas company will in this case be a gas importer and not a local gas manufacturer, and thus the supply of gas to Israel is contingent on the approval of the Infrastructure Minster and the other authorized bodies and not just the prime minister.

Dr. David Cohen the general director for the Avner Oil and Gas Company, which is leading the drilling off the Ashkelon beach told Yated that he is upset about the decision, and that he agrees with Minister Suissa. However, he noted that he is not actively involved in the issue.

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