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Fueling the Feud

Binyamin Rose

Like relatives who fight over a windfall inheritance, Israelis have been locked in a tussle over the newfound wealth from natural gas discoveries. How should the pot be divided between the exploration companies, the government, and the citizens?

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

According to the conventional wisdom, G-d gave oil to the Muslim nations and milk and honey to the Jews — but that truism was turned on its head with the 2010 discovery of two massive natural gas fields off Israel’s shimmering Mediterranean coast. The reserves at the Tamar and Leviathan fields, a mile under the ocean bed and 50 miles west of Haifa, are worth an estimated $500 billion at today’s market prices, and are sufficient to power the country for the next 100 years. With the discovery, Israelis indulged in sweet dreams of cheap electricity for the average citizen and a transformation from pariah to a major energy exporter on the international stage. Say goodbye to OPEC oil boycotts and say hello to the New Middle East, where Arab nations buy “blue and white,” importing Israeli gas to replace supplies from Egypt sabotaged during the Arab Spring. Of course, there were logistics to be dealt with. Two different Israeli commissions, which included international experts, advised an arrangement under which the government would receive 60% of the revenues from gas sales, with 40% going to the exploration companies. Another clause: 60% of the gas would be designated for domestic consumption and 40% for export. On that basis, the government signed export contracts withJordan, Egypt, and the Palestinian Authority, while Cyprus, Greece, and Turkey waited in the wings.

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