US envoy Hochstein says offshore gas belongs to the Palestinian people

American official tells The National that post-war Gaza could include energy independence for Palestinians

US special envoy Amos Hochstein during a meeting with Lebanon's caretaker prime minister in Beirut on November 7, 2023. AFP
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A senior US official has confirmed that the offshore gas reserves near Gaza are to be utilised by the Palestinian people.

Speaking to The National in Manama, Amos Hochstein, US Special Presidential Co-ordinator, stated that the off shore gas reserves in Gaza can be a source of revenue and energy independence for Palestinians in a future set up.

Mr Hochstein said “As we march towards a solution, into a future of Gaza that is not controlled by a terrorist organisation, but by the Palestinian people for themselves, we have to look at the economic activity."

While the US has refused to call for a ceasefire in Gaza and is focusing its efforts on the release of Israeli hostages taken by Hamas on October 7, Mr Hochstein is among officials assessing what “the day after” of the war will look like.

“There is an opportunity here to develop the gas fields in offshore Gaza, on behalf of the Palestinians," he said, in reference to marine gas reserves already discovered in Gaza.

Mr Hochstein said he has worked on the issue with the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah for the past year and a half and said "it is entirely possible”.

He stressed that “as soon as we get to the day after and this horrible war ends, there are companies willing to develop those fields”.

However, he warned “we shouldn’t exaggerate its potential, but it can absolutely be a revenue stream for a Palestinian government, and to ensure there is an independent energy system for Palestine”.

Asked if Israel would allow for such a set up, Mr Hochstein confirmed “yes, 100 per cent”. He said: “I am very confident, there is no reason for them not to, it is not theirs [the Israelis], the gas belongs to the Palestinian people”.

Mr Hochstein says there is a “clear mechanism that we have developed, that would pose no threat and would maximise the effectiveness for the Palestinian people”.

Mr Hochstein dismissed suggestions that the current war in Gaza is being driven in part due to Israel’s ambitions to control the gas. “Israel has enormous resources of its own, the maritime agreement for Lebanon was to allow it to develop it”.

The Lebanese-Israeli agreement on the maritime border still stands and Mr Hochstein, who visited Lebanon last week, is confident it will not be affected by the war.

“I have spent over a decade on efforts of integration and connection, I firmly believe that economic ties, and physical integration leads to more prosperity, more connectivity and less conflict," he said.

Mr Hochstein acknowledged that at this extreme time of the war in Gaza “it is hard to see the positives, but I look at what can be done”.

His concern about the Israel-Gaza war was clear, saying “there are no winners in these wars. There is just death and destruction”.

During two days of meetings in Manama, Mr Hochstein was speaking to officials and participants about the potential of energy being a conduit for future peace in the region.

Speaking during a panel discussion, he touted the possibility of energy projects providing “military and diplomatic connectivity“.

In his interview with The National, Mr Hochstein said the maritime border agreement between Lebanon and Israel still stands. He added that the deal was important as it was important a deal to set the borders.

As for his message to officials in Lebanon during his visit last week, Mr Hochstein said it was "very simple: keeping Lebanon out of this war should be an issue of utmost importance for Lebanon, Israel, as it is for the United States”.

He added that officials have to make sure “Lebanon is not dragged into this war, that it does not escalate to another front”, describing that if it did happen that it would be "devastating for the Lebanese people and the Israeli people”.

When the maritime border deal was completed between Lebanon and Israel in October 2022, which Mr Hochstein played a major role in orchestrating, there were high hopes for gas discoveries to help relieve the crisis-struck Lebanese economy.

However, no gas has been discovered in Lebanon yet.

Mr Hochstein said that "Lebanon cannot wait for a magic wand to save all its problems”. Without a president or confirmed government, Lebanon continues to struggle.

Mr Hochstein stressed, “no gas is going to change that”. However, he sounded optimistic that off shore gas could be found, as exploration takes time.

Updated: November 20, 2023, 5:07 AM