The Crusader Newspaper Group


The 1995 Oslo II Accord granted maritime jurisdiction to Palestine, yet disputes over gas exploration control emerged, with accusations of Israel freezing revenues, violating international law, and hindering Gazans’ much-needed development. (Crusader graphic)

In 1973, Golda Meir, then Prime Minister of Israel, remarked about Moses during a state dinner, saying, “He took us 40 years through the desert in order to bring us to the one spot in the Middle East that has no oil.”

There was a perception for many decades that the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea was devoid of any oil deposits. But despite this common perception, there have been discoveries of oil and gas in the region. During the past half-century, the Israeli government has drilled approximately 470 wells in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza. Of those, about 120 were exploratory wells drilled in areas of known oil or gas reserves.

The first exploratory drilling began in 1947. In 1955, oil was discovered in the Heletz area, approximately four miles northeast of the northern Gaza border. By 1962, a report estimated that 500 million to 2 billion barrels of oil ultimately would be recovered from under the lands of Israel. By 1979, oil also had been discovered in the Sinai and Gulf of Suez regions, as well as in Israel’s coastal plains. But Israel gave up its claims to oil in the Sinai and Gulf of Suez regions when it entered the Egypt-Israel peace treaty in 1979, which returned those resources to Egypt.

In 1986, the Israeli government suspended all drilling operations in Israel and authorized a comprehensive study to ascertain its potential oil reserves. The study was completed and published in 1988, after which, licenses were granted to several small Israeli publicly traded limited partnerships and several large international oil and gas companies. At this point, large companies became involved in offshore exploration.

During the past several years, significant amounts of natural gas deposits estimated to contain as much as 3.5 trillion cubic feet have been discovered off the coast of Israel and Gaza. However, Israel has used the threat of military action to restrict the development of Gaza’s offshore gas deposits, and there are allegations that Israel is exploiting those resources, belonging to Gaza that are estimated to be worth many billions of dollars.

The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTD) issued a study in 2019 stating in part, “Geologists and resources economists have confirmed that the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) lies above sizeable reservoirs of oil and natural gas wealth…” The report went on to express concerns that these are resources that “Israel has begun to exploit for its own benefit, while these resources may be considered shared resources, as the oil and natural gas exist in common pools.” The report went on to say, “What could be a source of wealth and opportunities could prove disastrous if these common resources are exploited individually and exclusively, without due regard for international law and norms.”

The Palestinian Authority was assured maritime jurisdiction over its waters up to 20 nautical miles from the coast of Gaza by the Oslo II Accord, which was signed in 1995 by the government of Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization. Signatories from the United States, Russia, Egypt, Jordan, Norway and the European Union signed the accord as witnesses recognizing the stated agreement.

In 1999, The Palestinian Authority signed a 25-year contract for gas exploration with the British Gas Group, and later that year, a large gas field, now known as the “Gaza Marine,” was discovered at 17 to 21 nautical miles off the Gaza coast. Since 2007, however, Israel has taken de facto control over Gaza’s natural gas reserves and frozen the revenues paid by British Gas Group and demanded that the company deal solely with them. British Gas Group has acquiesced to the Israeli government’s demands, and all proceeds from the well go to Israel. The result of this violation of international law is that the funds for Gazans’ much-needed development are being denied to them.

In its 2019 report, UNCTD pointed out the inequity that was being imposed on Palestine when it stated, “Israel’s exploitation of Palestinian natural resources, including oil and natural gas, imposes on the Palestinian people enormous costs that escalate as the occupation remains in effect.”

In addition to the offshore resources discovered off the Gaza coast, it is estimated that more than 1.5 billion barrels of oil lie beneath the occupied West Bank. There are also charges of Israel’s appropriation of the Palestinian Territory West Bank’s onshore oil field, most of which lies beneath Palestinian territory occupied since the 1967 war, but which Israel claims is located west of the armistice line of 1948.

While it is reported that the United States is asking Israel to allow Palestinians to profit from their gas and oil and build an independent energy system from offshore gas when the current war ceases, the sense is that the Israeli government will continue to prevent Palestinians from drilling for their own oil and gas.

Policy decisions by the Israeli government appear to be designed to continue to force Palestinians to be dependent upon Israel, both economically and in matters of energy. News reports have given evidence to the fact that the Israeli government even confiscates solar panels in some Palestinian communities. A UNCTD report issued in October 2023 highlighted the Palestinian economy’s forced dependency on Israel, citing, among other things, “excessive production and transaction costs and barriers to trade with the rest of the world.” These restrictive policies have resulted in Palestine relying on Israel for 72% of its trade in 2022.

According to UNCTD’s report, “Living in Gaza in 2022 meant confinement in one of the most densely populated spaces in the world, without electricity half the time, and without adequate access to clean water or a proper sewage system.

“It meant a 65% probability of being poor, 41% probability of dropping out of the labour force in despair, and for those looking for work, a 45% probability of being unemployed.” And, as is widely known, even when traveling to the West Bank, Gazans even need permits to move in and out of the Gaza Strip through two land crossing points controlled by Israel.

Past wars have arisen out of the desire to control the flow of oil and reap its profits. So, it is no wonder that some writers claim that control of fossil fuel deposits is a major contributing factor to the Israeli government’s relentless attacks upon the Palestinian people.

While reaping financial gain from fossil fuel reserves may be one factor in the current crisis in the Middle East, it is also very clear that the Israeli government opposes the existence of a free and independent nation of Palestine. Allowing Palestine to have control over its own natural resources would ultimately result in it becoming an independent and sustainable nation. The issue then becomes one of existential opposites. The Israeli government claims that for the nation of Israel to exist, there can be no Palestinian nation. In response, Hamas believes that if the nation of Israel will not allow the nation of Palestine to exist, then for there to be a nation of Palestine, there can be no nation of Israel.

This dance of death has devolved into acts of genocide by one side against the other, and the United States is complicit in the carnage.

By allowing the government of Israel to blatantly abuse the rights of innocent Palestinians and clearly siding with the Israeli government when both the Israeli government and Hamas have resorted to violence, the United States has proven itself to be unworthy of any trust as a peacemaker. It is time for new leadership in the global community to step forward and tell the United States to step back because it clearly has failed as a champion of human rights.

It is also time for United States citizens to demand that their government stop fueling this war by supplying arms and being silent when asked to stand up for a cease-fire and human rights.

Oscar H. Blayton is a former Marine Corps combat pilot and human rights activist who practices law in Virginia. His earlier commentaries may be found at

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