Know More About Palestine

Friday Feb. 4, 2011 7:33 PM (EST+7)
Israel, Palestinians float Gaza gas rapprochement

Read more: Gaza Marine gas field

JERUSALEM, Jan 4 (Dan Williams/Reuters) - Israel and the Palestinians are eyeing talks to develop a gas field off the Gaza coast and other initiatives for an independent Palestinian infrastructure, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Friday.

The announcement anticipated a meeting on Saturday of world powers trying to revive peace talks mired by long-running Israeli-Palestinian disputes about West Bank boundaries as well as the inflexibility of Gaza's Islamist Hamas rulers.

Middle East diplomacy has been thrown into further disarray by the weeks of political upheaval in neighbouring Egypt -- the key regional powerbroker -- and other Arab states.

Hosting peace envoy Tony Blair, Netanyahu said the Gaza Marine gas field should be tapped together with an Israeli field nearby.

This is something that the Palestinian Authority expressed interest in, Netanyahu told Blair during a media appearance.

I think we're going to begin discussions and negotiations to facilitate both, where the revenues from the Palestinian field go to the Palestinian Authority and the revenues from the Israeli field go to the Israeli government and I think this is good for stability, good for prosperity and good for peace.

He also outlined new electricity, water and sewage projects intended to make Gaza independent of Israeli infrastructure.

Israel quit the strip in 2005 but still supplies much of the basic needs of its 1.5 million Palestinians while enforcing a blockade intended to place curbs on Hamas.

Blair said U.S.-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who shelved talks with Netanyahu in September and is also at loggerheads with rival Hamas, sought approval in principle of the supply of Palestinian offshore gas to Gaza power plants and specific project approval to a new power station there.


Clearly there are many items to be worked out but this is an important breakthrough for the Palestinian Authority, people in Gaza and the broader region, Blair said.

The Abbas administration and Hamas had no immediate comment.

Gaza Marine was found a decade ago but discussions on production involving British and Lebanese partners fell through.

Israel imports some 40 percent of its natural gas from Egypt, in a deal built on their landmark 1979 peace accord.

But the Israelis, who plan to draw more on their own offshore gas in the coming years, have been jarred by the popular revolt against Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and the prospect of an erosion of bilateral ties with Cairo.

Noting the regional uproar, Netanyahu reiterated his call for Abbas to enter direct talks. The Quartet represented by Blair -- the United States, European Union, United Nations and Russia -- meet in Munich on Saturday to discuss progress.

Netanyahu saw vindication of Israel's demand for permanent troop deployments in the West Bank's Jordan Valley and the demilitarisation of a future Palestinian state under any accord.

One of the things that I think people can appreciate today is the importance we attach to the security arrangements on the ground because as recent events have shown us, the peace agreement has to take into account not only the situation that is present today, but the situation that could unfold tomorrow, Netanyahu told Blair. Abbas suspended negotiations after Israel refused to renew a freeze on Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank, where, along with Gaza, Palestinians want statehood. But lower-level contacts on West Bank economic and security projects continue.






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