Jordanian MPs challenge “unconstitutional” Israel gas deal

Protesters hold up banners on the street.

Jordanians protest the Israel-Jordan gas deal outside the parliament building in Amman on 26 March after they were prevented from attending the session. 

Tamara Nassar

Members of Jordan’s parliament called for the cancellation of the Israel-Jordan gas deal during a parliamentary session on Tuesday that was closed to the public.

House Speaker Atef Tarawneh affirmed that all sectors of society and members of parliament utterly reject Jordanian electricity company NEPCO’s multi-billion dollar agreement to buy natural gas from Israel.

Several members of parliament said the deal may violate Article 33, section two of the Jordanian constitution, which states: “Treaties and agreements which entail any expenditures to the Treasury of the State or affect the public or private rights of Jordanians shall not be valid unless approved by the parliament; and in no case shall the secret terms in a treaty or agreement be contrary to the overt terms.”

Deputy Prime Minister Rajai Muasher said the deal will be referred to the constitutional court.

Dozens of Jordanians gathered outside the parliament building on Tuesday, demanding to be let into the session and protesting the gas deal. Police said the session was closed to the public, although it was live-streamed.

Two lawmakers addressed the protesters before the session.

“Gaza is getting attacked with missiles while we’re serving this deal,” MP Saleh al-Armouti said in an address to protesters.

Jordan has alternative energy sources, and the importation of gas from Israel, which was pushed by the Obama administration, is widely seen as more of a diplomatic deal benefitting Israel’s economy rather than one based on economic necessity.

Jordan recently signed a deal to receive half of its gas needs from Egypt.

The billions of dollars that Jordan reportedly intends to invest in Israel’s economy could be used to pay off part of Jordan’s debt, which stands at about $40 billion.

“Secret” deal

MP Saddah al-Habashneh, who also addressed the crowd, said the deal was unconstitutional and implied that members of parliament were not given access to read what he called the “secret” deal.

“Why are they hiding it? It’s a clue that there is something. It is totally rejected.”

Al-Habashneh demanded the deal be scrapped along with Jordan’s peace treaty with Israel – known as the Wadi Araba agreement after the place it was signed.

“We are calling for the Wadi Araba agreement to be dropped. What is peace when they’re attacking Gaza?” al-Habashneh said. “And with yesterday’s recognition of the Golan Heights, what’s left? We want dignity.”

The peace treaty normalized relations between the two countries in 1994, despite there being no restoration of Palestinian rights or an end to Israeli military occupation of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip.

On Monday, the Trump administration recognized Israel’s annexation, illegal under international law, of Syria’s Golan Heights, a move that could presage similar steps with respect to the West Bank.

Al-Armouti said that a bill has already been introduced demanding the cancellation of the Wadi Araba agreement, adding that it was signed by 80 members of parliament.

“The decision is ours. If we decide to revoke the Wadi Araba agreement, the government will be constitutionally bound to drop it,” al-Armouti said.

Al-Armouti added that the same conditions would apply to the gas deal.

“If we decide to nullify it, it is the duty of the government to abide. If the government does not abide by the decision of the House of Representatives, trust in the government will be put into question,” al-Armouti said.

Last week, MP Muhammad Hdeib was escorted out of a parliament session after stating that Jordan’s custodianship of holy sites in Jerusalem “is dying” and that “no one will stand” with Palestinians.

Strong opposition

There has been strong internal opposition from the public and parliament since the gas deal was signed in 2014, which prompted the formation of the “Jordanian Campaign to Stop the Zionist Gas Deal.”

Two men hold up a large banner.

Activists hold up a banner telling lawmakers that ”Jordan is not for sale,” outside the parliament building in Amman, on 26 March. 

Tamara Nassar

“We in the Jordanian national campaign have repeatedly requested that the agreement be presented to the House of Representatives because that is what’s right within the constitution,” activist Mohammad Elabsi told The Electronic Intifada.

Elabsi said the parliament faces a “historic, patriotic and moral responsibility” to cancel the deal.

Elabsi added that the campaign is demanding that parliamentary sessions on the deal be open to the media and public.

He said that campaigners also insist that such debates “result in a binding decision” obligating the government to cancel the deal.

The deal calls for the construction of a 65-kilometer gas pipeline stretching from Jordan’s northern borders with Israel to the Mafraq governorate in the northeast.

Construction of the pipeline has already begun, and Israel is expected to start pumping gas to Jordan by early 2020.

In less than a year, the gas will be extracted from the Israeli-controlled Leviathan fields in the Eastern Mediterranean. The extraction is being led by the US giant Noble Energy.

The Israeli government is set to make $8.4 billion from the deal, according to campaigners.

Dinner at the embassy

Meanwhile, Israel’s Arabic-language propaganda Twitter account stated on Wednesday that 100 diplomatic and Jordanian figures attended a dinner in the Israeli embassy in Amman that week.

Pictures show Israeli ambassador to Jordan Amir Weissbrod posing with the Israeli chef who prepared food for the evening:

The same account posted a picture of Weissbrod casting his vote for upcoming Israeli elections in the Amman embassy:

Jordan’s King Abdullah cancelled a trip to Romania this week after Prime Minister Viorica Dancila announced on Sunday her country’s intention to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Romania’s president Klaus Iohannis firmly denied the prime minister’s remarks, stating that she “shows complete ignorance regarding foreign affairs” and that the final decision rests with him.

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Tamara Nassar

Tamara Nassar is an assistant editor at The Electronic Intifada.