The Palestinian Authority on Tuesday announced plans to explore for oil in the West Bank, throwing a new element of uncertainty and confusion into troubled U.S.-backed peace efforts. The PA announced that it would look for oil in Judea and Samaria, but in areas under Israeli control.
According to the Palestinian-based WAFA news agency, Mohammad Mustafa, the PA Deputy Prime Minister for Economic Affairs, announced on Tuesday that the PA is requesting proposals from interested firms to explore and develop oil in the region. He said the project was among a series of initiatives drawn up by British Mideast envoy Tony Blair to help develop the Palestinian economy.
The Associated Press reported that Blair has proposed a multi-year plan for developing the Palestinian economy — an effort that is meant to complement and bolster U.S.-led peace talks. However, the former British prime minister has made little headway in carrying out the development projects, which focus on eight areas of the economy, including agriculture, construction, tourism and energy.
The licensed area the PA plans to develop extends over 432 square kilometers, from north of Qalqilya to the west of Ramallah. According to a map released by the Palestinians, the oil exploration area covers more than 400 square kilometers (155 square miles) in a strip of land along the frontier with Israel. Most, if not all of this land, remains under full Israeli control.
Initial studies have indicated that the proposed drilling area may hold oil reserves ranging between 30 million and 186 million barrels.
The tender is available for public bidding.
The project as a whole is expected to generate proceeds exceeding $1 billion USD to the PA, including cash inflows in the form of taxes, royalties and other bonuses.
“The existence of oil in Palestine is a highly promising opportunity for the Palestinian economy,” Mustafa said.
He further emphasized the potential for a big shift in the PA’s economy’s trajectory as a result of such a project. “Having local oil supply will alleviate some of the costs borne by the Palestinian economy on oil imports” Mustafa added.
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s office had no comment, and Israel’s energy ministry said it was not involved in the project.
Tuesday’s announcement is not the first time that the PA has declared new projects in parts of Judea and Samaria that are under Israeli control, thus further complicating peace talks. Last month, the PA’s Ministry of Transport announced plans to build an airport in a region of Judea and Samaria located under Israeli control.
In 2012, then PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad inaugurated a water dam to be built in “Palestine” at a cost of over $1 million, ignoring the fact that the project was located in an area under Israeli sovereignty.
On Monday, the PA announced that its total debts had topped a staggering 4.8 billion dollars, and that the current year’s budgetary deficit was 1.5 billion dollars. The PA also owes a huge debt to Israel’s electric company.
The British backed projects come despite the PA’s continued claims that it is suffering from an economic crisis. However, the PA has continued to provide huge monthly salaries to terrorists serving time in Israeli prisons while blaming Israel for the financial crisis.