Amidst a sea of controversy, the untapped potential of the Gaza Marine gas field lies dormant. There are legal agreements, political disputes, and security concerns that challenge the narrative of Israeli natural resources theft from Palestinians, shedding light on the complex realities that govern the fate of these disputed natural resources.
The claims that Israel has interfered with and stolen Palestinian gas reserves have been a point of contention and are rooted in the complex geopolitical situation in the region. To address these claims, it is essential to consider the legal, political, and historical context surrounding the gas reserves off the coast of Gaza.
The Oslo Accords, signed in the 1990s between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), laid the groundwork for future negotiations and established areas of Palestinian self-rule. However, the Accords did not conclusively settle the issue of natural resources, including offshore gas reserves. The subsequent agreements and understandings were to be negotiated, and the final status of such resources was to be determined through direct talks.
…the question arises whose territorial waters are these really, and whether or not the PA has the rights to these reserves based on the Oslo Accords.
Why was development suspended?
The Gaza Marine gas field was discovered by British Gas (BG) in 1999, several years after the second Oslo Accords. The Palestinian Authority (PA) was to receive royalties from any future gas sales, which were intended to benefit the Palestinian economy. However, the development of the gas field has been stalled due to various factors, including a disagreement about the price that Israel was willing to pay for gas, as well as the political split between the PA and Hamas, the latter of which took control of the Gaza Strip in 2007. Israel has its own supply of gas, and has developed its own offshore gas fields, such as Tamar and Leviathan, which are located within its internationally recognized economic waters. These developments have been conducted in accordance with international law, have no connection to the Gaza Marine gas field, and have contributed to Israel’s reluctance to pay the prices that the PLO was demanding.
The takeover of Gaza by Hamas, which is recognized as a terrorist organization by many countries, including Israel and the United States, created a significant obstacle to the development of the gas field. Israel, as well as international companies like BG, faced the dilemma of how to proceed without the proceeds funding terrorism.
Israel’s security concerns, particularly the use of revenues from natural resources to fund terrorism, have been a major factor in its approach to the Gaza Marine gas field. The major concern has been that gas revenues would be used by Hamas for military purposes rather than for the welfare of the Palestinian people. The ongoing dispute between the PA and Hamas about who owns the rights to the gas reserves has also been a sticking point, with the PA claiming ownership based on the Oslo Accords.
That said, the question arises whose territorial waters are these really, and whether or not the PA has the rights to these reserves based on the Oslo Accords. In regard to the territorial boundaries of Israel suffice it to say that there is a disagreement about whether the Palestinian Territories fall within the sovereign territory of Israel, or have their own legal land and water rights to territories in and around Israel. Leaving this conversation for a separate article, let’s simply address the question of whether the Oslo Accords give the PA rights to the gas reserves, assuming that Hamas does not have rights to them as an internationally recognized terrorist organization.
Are the Oslo Accords enforceable?
Here are some specific arguments regarding the enforceability and legality of the Oslo Accords. First, the Palestinian Authority (PA) is not recognized as a sovereign state by international law standards. Since treaties are typically agreements between sovereign states, the legal status of an agreement involving a non-state entity can be ambiguous. Additionally, the Oslo Accords are only an interim agreement rather than a final peace treaty. They were intended to lay the groundwork for further negotiations about a future Palestinian state rather than establishing a permanent legal framework. This interim nature affects their enforceability, since the PA failed to accept any of a number of two-state solution peace agreements proposed by Israel.
The Oslo Accords were not ratified through the proper legal mechanisms that would be required for a binding international treaty. Without formal ratification, any legal obligations set forth by the agreement are not considered to be legally binding. Moreover, if one or both parties to an agreement have consistently violated its terms, this can undermine the agreement’s enforceability, and repeated violations by the PA have certainly rendered the Accords non-binding. Furthermore, the principle of rebus sic stantibus in international law holds that treaties can become inapplicable if there has been a fundamental change in circumstances. The situation on the ground since the Oslo Accords has changed significantly, affecting their relevance and enforceability.
Critics of the Palestinian Authority (PA) have cited various ways in which they believe the PA has violated the Oslo Accords. One of the commonly mentioned points is that the Oslo Accords called for both parties to refrain from incitement and hostile propaganda.
There is also a lack of a third-party enforcement mechanism. The Oslo Accords do not have a clear enforcement mechanism involving an impartial third party that can adjudicate disputes and enforce compliance. This lack of an enforcement mechanism can make it difficult to hold either party accountable to the terms of the Accords. There is also the problem of the Accords not fitting into the domestic legal systems of Israel and the Palestinian territories. If the Accords are not incorporated into domestic law or are inconsistent with domestic legislation, this affects their enforceability within those jurisdictions.
Here are some examples of how the Oslo Accords don’t fit seamlessly into the domestic legal systems of Israel and the Palestinian Territories. In Israel, international treaties generally do not become part of domestic law until they are ratified by the Knesset (Israel’s Parliament) and implemented through legislation. The Oslo Accords, being interim agreements, were not fully ratified as a formal peace treaty, which affects their direct applicability within Israeli domestic law.
The Palestinian legal system is a complex mix of laws from various sources, including Ottoman, British Mandate, Jordanian, Egyptian, and more recently, Palestinian Authority legislation. The Palestinian Legislative Council would need to pass specific legislation to incorporate the provisions of the Oslo Accords into the domestic legal framework. Given the political split between the PA in Judea and Samaria, and Hamas in Gaza, achieving a unified legal approach to the Accords has been challenging.
The Oslo Accords included security arrangements, such as the establishment of the Palestinian police force and cooperation with Israeli security. However, the rise of Hamas in Gaza and the subsequent conflicts have created a situation where the security provisions of the Accords are not fully aligned with the current security legislation and practices in the Palestinian Territories. There are also jurisdictional issues, because the Accords divided Judea and Samaria into Areas A, B, and C, with varying degrees of Palestinian and Israeli control. This division has led to a complex legal situation where different laws apply in different areas, and the jurisdictional boundaries are not always clear or consistent with the domestic legal systems on both sides.
Israeli towns in Judea and Samaria are considered to be legal under Israeli law but are seen as a violation of international law by various members of the international community despite numerous international law scholars who refute this point of view, and reject the notion that Israeli settlement in their own sovereign territory is illegal. The Oslo Accords did not resolve the issue of settlements, and their continued expansion is a point of contention that is not addressed within the current Palestinian legal framework. Also, the management of natural resources, including water and minerals, is another area where the Oslo Accords’ provisions conflict with domestic laws. The Accords called for joint Israeli-Palestinian committees to manage resources, but in practice, there have been disputes over resource allocation and control that are not fully addressed in domestic legislation.
Violations of joint security agreements
Critics of the Palestinian Authority (PA) have cited various ways in which they believe the PA has violated the Oslo Accords. One of the commonly mentioned points is that the Oslo Accords called for both parties to refrain from incitement and hostile propaganda. Since the Accords there have been endless examples of the PA engaging in incitement against Israel in its official media, educational materials, and speeches by officials. What’s important to understand is that Hamas and the PA are two sides of the same coin. Hamas seeks to destroy Israel by backing their claims with religious reasons, while the PA seeks to destroy Israel by backing its claims with political reasons. Both openly call for the destruction of Israel, and both use violent means to accomplish their goals.
According to the Accords, the PA is expected to exercise control over all security and governance functions in its territories, including action against terrorist groups. However, instead of taking action against terror groups, the PA actively incentivizes terrorism against Israel. One of the most controversial practice by the PA is the “Martyr’s Fund,” also known as their “Pay-to-Slay” Policy, whereby financial payments are made to the families of Palestinians who are imprisoned or killed while performing acts of terror against Israelis. These payments incentivize impovrished Palestinians to provide for their families by sacrificing themselves as “martyrs for the Palestinian cause”. The Palestinian Center for Policy Survey and Research (PCPSR) recently published a poll citing that 85% of Judea and Samaria Palestinians were happy with Hamas after the massacre of October 7th, 2023. Other recent polls indicate that the only more popular option than Hamas were other Palestinian terror groups, which certainly does not bode well for the peace process.
This preliminary agreement, which was intended to provide a framework for peace and set the stage for Palestinian self-governance in certain territories has not only become irrelevant, but has also been violated on countless occasions by the PLO, and is therefore null and void.
There is no shortage of terror organizations in Judea and Samaria. Although primarily based in Gaza, Hamas has a large number of supporters and has carried out attacks in Judea and Samaria. There is a major concern that Hamas could take over Judea and Samaria after President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) retires or passes away. Another terror organization that is popular in the Palestinian Territories is Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), which is a smaller group than Hamas, but also committed to terrorism against Israel. The Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, which is affiliated with Fatah, the political party that dominates the PA, has been involved in armed attacks against Israeli targets. The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) is an incredibly violent Marxist-Leninist group that has carried out heinous acts of terror against Israel, including the mass murder of defenseless Jewish children in a school by gunning them down and using grenades to make sure they were all dead. The Popular Resistance Committees (PRC) is a coalition of various terrorist factions that have been involved in attacks against Israeli military and civilian targets. The PRC is known for its use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and rocket fire. While primarily based in Lebanon, Hezbollah has been reported to have attempted to establish cells and recruit operatives within Judea and Samaria to carry out attacks against Israel. ISIS has also operated within the Palestinian Territories, as well as Lion’s Den, which is a Palestinian terrorist group that emerged particularly around the city of Nablus, a loose coalition of Palestinian terrorists from various factions.
Besides ongoing terrorism from the Palestinian Territories, another reason why the Oslo Accords have been breached by the PA includes its use and importation of illegal arms. Under the Oslo Accords, the PA was restricted in terms of the weapons it could possess and the size of its security forces, and they have exceeded these limitations. The Accords required both parties to resolve their differences through negotiation and to avoid unilateral actions that could prejudice the outcome of future talks. The PA’s pursuit of international recognition and statehood at the United Nations and other international bodies has been cited as a violation of this principle. The Accords also included provisions related to financial transparency and accountability. Critics have noted the PA’s mismanagement of funds and lack of financial transparency by its kleptocratic leadership, not only embezzling aid money intended to increase the quality of life of Palestinians, but also the sale of wrongfully appropriated aid goods such as food and medical supplies, instead of giving them freely to Palestinian civilians in need.
The need for strict oversight of proceeds from gas reserves
If we once again set aside the legitimate argument that Gaza is actually located within the sovereign territory of Israel, and has no water or land rights as of yet, since no permanent peace agreement nor treaty has been signed and ratified, and we suspend our disbelief about Palestinians claiming ownership over the gas reserves in the Mediterranean, we must then refer to the Oslo Accords. This preliminary agreement, which was intended to provide a framework for peace and set the stage for Palestinian self-governance in certain territories has not only become irrelevant, but has also been violated on countless occasions by the PLO, and is therefore null and void. Without the Oslo Accords, the PA has no rights to the gas fields off Israel’s shores, and neither does Hamas.
The PA has faced accusations of violating the Oslo Accords in several ways: incitement and hostile propaganda, lack of security cooperation, providing financial incentives for terrorism, importing and holding illegal arms, unilateral international actions, lack of financial transparency, active support for terrorist organizations. Despite all of these violations, Israel has agreed to allow the development of the gas fields for the benefit of the Palestinian civilians in the Territories.
In light of these points, the claims that Israel has interfered with or stolen Palestinian gas reserves can be easily refuted. The development of the Gaza Marine gas field has been complicated by the political split between the PA and Hamas, security concerns, and the broader context of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. The resolution of the gas reserves’ development and the wider considerations of the peace process would require adherence to international agreements, a stable political situation, and a security arrangement that ensures the proceeds are used for peaceful purposes. Until such conditions are met, the potential of the Gaza Marine gas field remains untapped, and the claims of theft and interference lack a substantive basis. These claims by Palestinians and their supporters must be viewed within this complex framework, where legal, political, and security issues intertwine.