The Gaza Strip has endured extreme shortages in electricity for more than a decade. This is due to strict Israeli restrictions on sea, land, and air movement into and out of Gaza and clashes between Hamas and the Israeli armed forces. Gaza needs 600 megawatts of electricity for a constant supply of power. However, it only gets 180 megawatts, of which 120 megawatts come from Israel. The dire situation has escalated in the past month with fighting between Israel and Hamas. Israel closed the border with Gaza and suspended the fuel supply. Power lines and infrastructure were also damaged limiting Gazans’ access to electricity to around four hours a day. This shortage of energy has only exacerbated Gaza’s already difficult living conditions.
Qatar has played a significant role in supporting Gazans’ access to electricity through financial support, specifically the purchase of fuel shipments into Hamas-ruled Gaza facilitated by Israel. In February, Doha committed $60 million to the construction of a natural gas pipeline from Israel to Gaza. Qatar’s ability to play a role in the provision of Palestinian energy is facilitated by its expertise in energy production, humanitarian initiatives in Gaza, and political ties with both Israel and Hamas.
With the deposing of the government of President Mohamed Morsi in Egypt in 2013, the Egyptian military destroyed many of the black market smuggling tunnels between Egypt and Gaza. This reduced the amount of illicit fuel available in Gaza that offered a cheaper option for electricity generation as fuel from Israel was double the price of that from Egypt. As a more formal alternative, Qatar began to supply diesel to Gaza’s sole power plant through Israel. Doha agreed to donate $12 million worth of fuel for the power plant in 2017 and paid more than $150 million for energy production and cash handouts in 2019.
In February, Qatar agreed to fund and build part of a gas pipeline to Gaza that is planned to be completed in 2023. The Gas for Gaza project was first proposed by the Office of the Quartet in 2014 in agreement with the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli government. The project aims to transport natural gas from the Leviathan field off the coast of Haifa into Israel through Israel’s natural gas lines and finally into Gaza via a new extension. While the Qataris will be responsible for constructing pipelines inside Israel, the European Union pledged 20 million euros (approximately $24 million) to install pipelines from the Israeli-Gazan border to Gaza’s power plant.
Under the supervision of Israel, the project aims to provide sustainable electricity in Gaza by increasing electrical capacity and therefore supporting the livelihoods of its population. The shift to natural gas will also decrease carbon emissions. At the same time, the project will make Gaza more reliant on Israel as the source of energy.
Qatar is well equipped to play a growing role in Palestinian energy. Qatar is the largest liquefied natural gas exporter in the world, with its LNG coming from seven mainly state-owned projects. Qatar Petroleum controls all processes of the country’s oil and natural gas sectors, including exploration, production, and sales. This makes Qatar capable of providing technical and financial assistance to build the proposed pipeline and be involved in Gaza’s gas production.
Qatar’s humanitarian endeavors with Palestinians have established the foundations, relationships, and access for it to help build the Palestinian energy sector. Qatari humanitarian assistance through Qatar Charity and the Qatari government has mainly been centered around the Gaza Strip. In 2014 during the Cairo Summit, Qatar pledged $1 billion to support the reconstruction of Gaza over a 3-year period and has recently pledged $360 million to support Gaza during 2021. Between 2012 and 2018, Qatar allocated over $1.1 billion to projects in the Gaza Strip. Part of this aid was dedicated to projects to rebuild infrastructure and energy production, including funding the power plant.
Qatar’s humanitarian involvement has strengthened its ties with all parties involved in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and it has strategically painted itself as a diplomatic mediator hosting reconciliation meetings between Hamas and Fatah. Qatar’s position as one of the few countries able to work and negotiate with the various parties involved enables it to work within Gaza’s energy sector.
Qatar was one of the first Arab countries to establish an open relationship with Israel. Qatar initiated the first meeting in 2003, when the two countries’ foreign ministers met in Paris to discuss a peace settlement in the region. Israel sees Qatar as a key mediator with Hamas. Although Israel is weary of Qatar’s relationship with Hamas and Iran, it knows Qatar’s ability to work with Hamas helps the distribution of aid. And, in February 2020, Israel sent its top military officer in charge of Gaza to Doha to convince Qatari officials to continue payments to Hamas for Gaza.
At the same time, Qatar has continued to support Palestinian statehood and said that it was not yet ready to normalize relations with Israel without progress between Israel and Palestinians. Although there has been tension between the Palestinian Authority and Qatar, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas visited Doha in December 2020 to ensure Qatar’s continued support. On the other hand, Qatar has a strong relationship with Hamas, visible in its rhetorical and financial backing of the organization. In 2012, Qatar’s emir visited Gaza – the first head of state to do so since 2007.
In Gaza, Qatar’s humanitarian and political efforts, willingness to recognize Israeli interests, and readiness to build the proposed pipeline increase the Gulf Arab country’s role in regional gas dynamics. Hamas, Israel, and the Palestinian Authority all welcome Qatar’s role in Palestinian and Israeli energy. If the Gas for Gaza project succeeds in providing sustainable electricity in Gaza, it may reduce the need for high levels of humanitarian assistance from Qatar opening the way for new types of Qatari economic influence in Gaza.