Now more than ever, there is a real opportunity for building lasting peace through shared prosperity in the Middle East, says a new UNCTAD report.The potential olive branch, according to “The Economic Cost of Occupation for the Palestinian People: The Unrealized Oil and Natural Gas Potential”, published by UNCTAD’s Division on Globalization and Development Strategies, is the abundant oil and gas fields discovered in the eastern Mediterranean in recent years. Estimated at over US$500 billion, these deep-sea reserves are claimed by Egypt, Palestine, Israel, Lebanon, Syria, and Cyprus.
The Virtual Institute (Vi) sat down with some of the UNCTAD experts who contributed to the report; they discussed their numerous findings with us. According to Dr. Mahmoud Elkhafif, one of the report’s lead contributors and coordinator of the Assistance to the Palestinian People Unit (APPU),many important messages emerged from the study.
Dr. Mutasim Elagraa, another contributor, offered a synopsis of the extent of gas and oil resources in the region,
as well as the complex political backdrop that looms over all oil and natural gas development in the Middle East.
Conflict resulting from unequal access to natural resources is, alas, not new to the region. Both a previous APPU study and this latest report highlight stark differences between Israelis and Palestinians in their daily water consumption and access to water. The latter, for example, notes: “[A]verage use per capita in total water consumption is 1,959 cubic metres per year in Israel, compared with 238 cubic meters per year by Palestinians … Palestinians are also denied their right to utilize water resources from the Jordan River and the Yarmouk River.”
Given such disparities, we also asked our UNCTAD experts if they see any hope for an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the near future: Will the region’s new oil and gas riches serve to heal divisions—or widen them?
Here’s what the experts said: