I had hoped to write an optimistic column due to interesting developments in the region that are potentially good for Israel.
The Egyptian president has announced that Egypt will be willing to station troops in the Palestinian territories to ensure compliance with any agreement reached on their political status, especially with reference to demilitarization. Along with the draconian measures taken by Egypt on the Gaza frontier and the abortive offer of land in the Sinai to be united with Gaza to form a homeland for the Palestinians, an offer rejected by Abbas, of course, it shows that Egypt continues to take measures and offer solutions entirely to the benefit of Israel.
The Saudi energy minister, speaking on behalf of King Abdullah, stated that the kingdom would be willing to sell oil to Israel, a startling reversal of decades of Saudi policy. In some ways even more interesting is that he referred to Israel as "the Jewish state", not "the Zionist Entity" or any other epithet so dear to Palestinian and other Arab propagandists.
Finally, it would appear that another attempt is underway to replace Mahmoud Abbas with Mohammed Dahlan, an effort undertaken by Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the UAE (where Dahlan resides), and Jordan. A massive demonstration in favor of Dahlan recently took place in Gaza, not interfered with by the Hamas authorities. When a similar project was on the verge of coming to fruition some months ago, Abbas quickly formed a unity government with Hamas, offering funding to Hamas in return for protection by the much more heavily-armed coalition partner. Now the unity government has collapsed due to the inability of the Palestinian Authority to fulfill its financial promises to Hamas. A Dahlan government in Ramallah, especially if, as rumored, he reinstalled Salam Fayyad as prime minister, would be good news indeed for Israel, not to mention the Palestinians themselves.
However, just as I was about to set pen to paper as I have just done above, a regulatory bombshell exploded on the Israeli scene. The head of the Antitrust Regulatory Authority, David Gilo, announced that he had changed his mind and was reversing his decision of last March, in a formal agreement signed with Delek and Noble Energy, and had now decided that the partners must divest themselves of either the Tamar field or the Leviathan field. This, after billions of dollars of investment and multiple agreements with the Israeli government, including the antitrust authority itself, as mentioned above.
This decision, or rather reversal, is not only an ethically reprehensible move on the part of the authority, but if carried out will inevitably damage the most important natural resource ever found in Israel, jeopardizing energy self-sufficiency and export revenues. It also brings into question gas supply contracts already signed with Egypt, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority, thereby severely damaging not only the international reputation of Israel as a reliable business partner, but the whole geo-strategic regional value of the gas (and eventually oil) finds.
This is not Israel shooting itself in the foot, it is Israel shooting itself in both knees. This incredibly stupid, illegal and immoral decision will undoubtedly be reversed by the courts and/or international arbitral tribunals, but by the time that happens much of the damage will have been done and recovery will be difficult or perhaps impossible. Even if an accommodation is reached without legal action, the image of Israel as a reliable partner will have been severely degraded.
Thus, what was to have been an optimistic column has been turned into an unexpectedly pessimistic one by the action of a single individual. The Romans in such cases used to ask cui bono? That is, who benefits, when something is done that appears inexplicably negative? The answer here, although hard to fathom, appears to be nobody, certainly not the Israeli state and people.
Norman A. Bailey, Ph.D., is Adjunct Professor of Economic Statecraft at The Institute of World Politics, Washington, DC, and teaches at the Center for National Security Studies and Geostrategy, University of Haifa.
Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on December 25, 2014
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