Last month Corporate Watch looked at the private companies in the arms trade, agricultural produce, banks and media sectors that have been targeted by Palestine solidarity protesters and campaigns (see Part 1 here). This month we take a detailed look at supermarkets and other food chains/
All major UK retailers sell Israeli goods, and most of them sell produce from illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Some have made statements in support of Zionism and some have contracts with Israeli companies.
There is a growing movement to boycott Israeli goods in solidarity with the people of Palestine and in line with an international call for boycott, divestment and sanctions. There have been reports in the press that Israeli producers are experiencing a decline in demand for Israeli produce since the bombardment of Gaza in January 2009. This could be the beginning of a snowball effect for the global boycott movement.
Tesco stores stock a large amount of produce grown in the Occupied Territories and purchased from the Israeli state, including fruit and vegetables from producer Carmel-Agrexco. Israeli products stocked by Tesco include fruit juice, mangoes, avocados, grapes, stonefruit, dates, herbs, pickled cucumbers, Exquisa potatoes, mixed peppers (from Israel and a second country of origin), Barkan wine, Yarden wine, biscuits, cold meat, dips, Osem soups and cakes, snacks by Beigel & Beigel, Telma (soup mixes and cubes, noodles etc) and socks (Tesco’s own brand).
Tesco sells products from illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank, many of which are exported by Carmel Agrexco. The company admitted sourcing ‘a number of products’ from illegal settlements, including avocados, herbs, grapes and stonefruit, such as peaches, from farms in the West Bank and Golan Heights. In 2006 War on Want reported that Tesco sells Beigel and Beigel products sourced from the settlements. Tesco also sells gas cylinders for products made by settlement company Soda Club, and repackages settlement dates from Hadiklaim as Tesco own brand dates. Mehadrin-Tnuport Export Company (MTex) supplies Tesco with settlement citrus fruit and there are links between Tesco and the Arava settlement company.
In October 2007, a group of campaigners from the Brighton Tubas Friendship and Solidarity Group entered Tomer settlement in the occupied Jordan Valley and photographed medjoul dates, packaged by Carmel Agrexco, labelled ‘Made in Israel’ and marked as bound for Tesco stores.
Products exported as ‘Made in Israel’ benefit from the preferential trade terms of the EU-Israel Association Agreement, which came into effect in 2000. Settlement products, however, are excluded from the beneficial terms of the EU-IAA.
When ITN screened an expose in 2007 accusing supermarkets of misleading British consumers, Tesco admitted it had acted “in error” and stated that Israeli dates “originating solely in the West Bank will [in the future] be labelled as such.”
Boycott Israeli Goods and others groups have been campaigning against the ‘West Bank’ label as it misleads consumers into believing produce from illegal settlements is actually Palestinian. The Palestinian General Delegation to the UK has written a letter of protest to Tesco, and other retailers, for persisting in the use of this misleading label.
Tesco says that ‘freedom of choice’ is one of the company’s priorities and consumers can choose not to buy Israeli products. However, in correspondence with campaigners in 2006, Tesco representatives said they were phasing out Tesco’s line of Israeli peppers due to consumer pressure. Boycott Israeli Goods campaigners have also consistently attended the Tesco AGM to raise the issue of settlement produce and propose a boycott of Israeli goods.
John Porter, one of the principal shareholders in Tesco, also has substantial investments in Israeli companies. In 2000, Tesco awarded a $1 million IT contract to the Israeli firm Tescom to provide a solution for Tesco’s Year 2000 conversion requirements.
During the bombing of Gaza, Tesco was targeted across the country by campaigners calling for a boycott of Israeli goods. In Swansea, activists stole Israeli settlement produce from Tesco and sprayed it with red dye to highlight Tesco’s complicity in Israel’s war crimes by profiting from settlement produce and enabling the settlements to trade and profit from their illegal occupation of Palestinian land.
Email: email@example.com Tesco PLC
New Tesco House
England EN8 9SL
Marks & Spencer
Historically, Marks & Spencer has made statements in support of Zionism. Lord Sieff, chairman and founder of M&S who died in 2001, made several statements in support of Israel’s military policies. In 1941, Sieff said that “large sections of the Arab population of Palestine should be transplanted to Iraq and other Middle-Eastern Arab States” (Jewish Chronicle, 21/09/1941). In 1990, Sieff, in a book entitled On Management: The Marks and Spencer Way, wrote that one of the fundamental objectives of M&S was to “aid the economic development of Israel.”
There have been no reports of M&S openly showing ideological support for Israel since 2004. The retail company has repeatedly asserted that “[it has] no ‘special’ relationship with any government, political party or religious group” but accepts that M&S does “make representations to governments in support of [its] commercial aims.” M&S management has not, to our knowledge, commented on Lord Sieff’s remarks in support of Zionism and has not made a statement as to whether the current management stands by them.
In 1998, Sir Richard Greenbury, then CEO of Marks & Spencer, received the Jubilee Award from Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. In 2000, the Jerusalem Report stated that “M&S supports Israel with $233 million in trade each year.”
In October 2000, the Jewish Chronicle reported that the British-Israel Chamber of Commerce (B-ICC) had held meetings at Marks & Spencer’s offices in Baker Street. However, in 2008 the store claimed that M&S “do not host meetings on our premises for the B-ICC.” Nevertheless, in December 2004, Stuart Rose, CEO of Marks and Spencer at the time, was a listed speaker at the annual dinner of the B-ICC.
When questioned in correspondence about the sale of Israeli goods in M&S stores in 2008, an M&S spokesperson said that the company buys “from Israel as… from 70 other countries…” and went on to state that the company would continue to do so. The letter continued to say that, “[w]e always put the country of origin on the products we sell. Where we buy Israeli products we label them as products of Israel.”
M&S stocks Israeli grapes, lychees, figs, plums, dates, fresh herbs, sweet potatoes, potatoes (Maris Piper, Desiree, Jacket, Marfona, and King Edward). Many of these products are imported through Carmel-Agrexco, a company part-owned by the Israeli state.
M&S also stocks large quantities of Delta Galil clothing, largely underwear. Delta Galil is Israel’s largest manufacturer and marketer of textiles. It is also a major beneficiary of the establishment of ‘Qualifying Industrial Zones’ (QIZ) in Egypt and Jordan which promote an unequal normalisation of trade arrangements between Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Egypt and Jordan. Marks and Spencer also sells textiles produced by Israeli firms, Solog and Polgat.
Until very recently, M&S openly sold products from illegal Israeli settlements. The Guardian reported in 2004 that the company stocked an extensive range of settlement products. Since 2007, however, M&S has made repeated statements to the press claiming that they do not stock goods from the Occupied Territories (see here, for example). In 2008, the store wrote: “We do not buy products from the West Bank, Golan Heights or Gaza as we cannot safely visit the suppliers in these areas because of the current security situation.” It seems probable that the move to cease selling settlement products was, in fact, due to effective campaigning, protests and fear of adverse press coverage.
But despite the above assurance, there is evidence that M&S continues to stock Hadiklaim dates packaged as an M&S own brand product. According to a recent report by School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), Hadiklaim, the Israel Date Growers’ Cooperative Ltd, “exports dates from Israel and from the occupied territories, especially Israeli settlements in the Jordan Valley.”
In correspondence with SOAS in 2008, David Gregory, Technical Food Director for M&S, stated the following:
“In the past, we have sold dates from this region. However, we made a policy decision sometime ago to cease all purchases from this area. However, our UK suppliers do buy raw material (dates) from the organisation Hadiklaim on our behalf. The contract explicitly prohibits purchase from Palestinian Territories and Hadiklaim source the dates from elsewhere within Israel to satisfy our requirements. Traceability systems are in place to confirm the source of the dates.”
M&S has faced sustained protests due to their historic ideological support for the Israeli state and because of their policy of stocking Israeli goods. Pickets have been held and store signs and billboards subvertised. In Manchester, three pickets were held in January 2009 in response to the bombing of Gaza. Weekly demonstrations have been held in Newcastle and in London. M&S has repeatedly ignored campaigners’ representations against the continued sale of Israeli goods.
Marks and Spencer plc
35 North Wharf Road
London W2 1NW
ASDA sells Israeli basil, tarragon, rosemary, sage, chives, dill, mint, thyme, passion fruit, mangoes, Blackfine plums, autumn red plums, medjoul dates, dragon fruit, pomegranates, avocados, organic sweet potatoes, sweet pointed peppers (red), sweet potatoes (“Georgia Jet”), frozen meat, biscuits, table wine (red, white, rose & sparkling), garden storage units and tinned grapefruit. ASDA also sells Carmel-Agrexco products (see above).
Since ITN’s 2007 report, ASDA has made several statements denying that it stocks goods in its stores from the ‘West Bank’ (i.e. settlement goods). However, ASDA has recently made several ambiguous statements contradicting its earlier stance. A spokesperson from the company recently wrote, in correspondence with campaigners: “I am sure you can imagine it is very difficult for ASDA to take a position on behalf of all our customers over politically controversial issues such as the current conflict you refer to (the occupation of Palestine). On the sourcing of products from overseas we are always guided by the position of the UK Government and by the European Union on trade policy.”
There is evidence that ASDA does stock goods from illegal Israeli settlements in its UK stores. ASDA stocks potatoes from Mehadrin-Tnuport Export Company (MTex). MTex is now the second-largest Israeli exporter of fresh produce to the UK after Agrexco. In 2005, the company exported 1,500 tonnes to the UK, with a value of £25 million. MTex exports fruit and vegetables from the region, stretching from Lake Tiberias to the Dead Sea; this includes territory both inside and outside the green line.
Campaigners have recently reported seeing herbs labelled ‘West Bank Israeli Settlements’ in ASDA stores. At least that’s accurate labelling but it does contradict ASDA’s previous statements to the press.
Campaigners have held many pickets of ASDA stores in Brighton and London in 2009 protesting against their sale of Israeli goods.
Paul Mason, Chief Executive Officer
Great Wilson Street,
Leeds LS11 5AD
Telephone: 0113 243 5435
Fax: 0113 241 8666
Despite the Co-operative family of businesses’ ethical image, the shelves of its supermarkets and high street stores have been found to carry Israeli products, including Carmel mangoes, sweet potatoes, peppers, sweet peppers (grown by Sulat), cherry tomatoes, herbs, passion fruit, Jaffa oranges and own brand tinned grapefruit.
The Co-op has faced pickets and repeated representations from consumers and campaigners over its sale of produce from illegal settlements and Israeli produce. In the last year, criticism has centred around the sale of settlement produce. For example, campaigners attended the Co-operative Group South East Region General Meeting in January 2008 and raised concerns about the ethics of selling settlement produce. The Co-op board undertook to look into conditions on settlement farms. Throughout the year, the issue was raised with Co-op management by members of the Co-op and its customers.
On the 5th January 2009 Len Wardle, Co-operative Group chair, wrote:
“The Co-operative Group board has decided to suspend sourcing products from illegal West Bank settlements. However, we will continue to trade with Israel and will seek to develop trading links with Palestinian farmers. The Co-operative Group only rarely curtails trade with particular countries or regions. However, in the case of the illegal settlement in the Israeli controlled occupied territories, it has proven to be all but impossible to ensure that supplies derived from the region are not perpetuating injustice and unfair terms of trade. We will no longer source dates, grapes and a number of herbs from the illegal West Bank settlements and will be phasing out the use of similar items from our own brand products.”
In making this statement, the Co-op is the first store to base its reasons for ceasing the sale of settlement goods on ethical concerns. The statement is weaker in some ways than that of M&S, but only in that it precludes the sale of West Bank goods and not produce from the Golan Heights. It is also unclear whether the Co-op’s definition of the West Bank includes East Jerusalem. Moreover, the Co-operative Group does not make any assurance that it will not sell products in its stores supplied by companies which source products from both the settlements and 1948 Israel, such as Hadiklaim, M-Tex and Carmel Agrexco.
In November 2008, YNet claimed that the Co-op had met with the Co-op Israel (a separate organisation) and agreed to open a chain of kosher supermarkets which will be equally owned by Co-op Israel and the UK Co-op. The UK Co-op has refuted this claim but admitted that a meeting took place with Co-op Israel.
On 16th February, 2009, students at the University of Aberdeen protested at the university’s Elphinstone Hall, where Co-op members were meeting, to pressure the food retailer to ban all Israeli products from its stores. A Co-op representative at the meeting said a motion on the subject of Israeli goods was due to be discussed by the organisation’s executive.
The Co-operative Group
Waitrose stocks Israeli basil, tarragon, thyme, lemon thyme, rosemary, chives, sage, oregano, mint, curly leaf parsley, ‘Red Rosa’ pears, sharon fruit, passion fruit, figs, lychees, oranges, lemons, grapefruit, grapes, strawberries, pomelos, pomegranates, galia melons, dragonfruit, organic medjoul dates, hadrawi dates, “Deglet Nour” dates, Cherry tomatoes, sweet potatoes, ‘Pamino’ peppers, ‘Red Romano’ peppers, mixed peppers, goods from the Tivall vegetarian food range, ‘Food for Thought’ snacks by Beigel & Beigel, cold meat, biscuits, dips and Dead Sea Magik cosmetics (found in John Lewis stores).
Waitrose has refused to enter into any debate about the sale of Israeli goods and its management has repeatedly refused to meet with campaigners. In February 2009, a spokesperson for the store reiterated that Waitrose was “unable to arrange a meeting”. In a letter to one customer, Waitrose said: “Whatever our own views may be about Israeli products, we do not think it is right to ask our buyers to base their choice of products on any other criteria than the commercial ones of quality and value for money.”
Waitrose stocks goods from illegal Israeli settlements and has been unresponsive to the ITN and More 4 reports which have led other stores to label their goods more clearly. The supermarket chain stocks a large range of products sourced from Carmel Agrexco, including a wide variety of organic herbs and vegetables grown on Israeli settlements, mainly in the Jordan Valley, and certified as organic by the Soil Association. Although Waitrose has not made statements to the press about labelling, a store spokesperson said “we clearly label our food to enable our customers to make informed choices.” It appears unclear, however, whether Waitrose still labels some goods from illegal settlements as ‘Made in Israel’.
According to War on Want’s Profiting from the Occupation report, Waitrose sells Beigel and Beigel products. Beigel and Beigel Ltd. is located in the Barkan industrial zone in the occupied West Bank and produces pretzels, savoury biscuits and crackers.
The John Lewis Partnership is one of the only large retailers to sell Ahava beauty products. Ahava is a settlement company based on the illegal settlement of Mitzpe Shalem. Waitrose also sells dates from settler company Hadiklaim (see above).
Waitrose claims that, if it ceased to deal with Israeli settlements, it would impact on Palestinian farmers. In correspondence with consumers, the retailer has described the settlement farms it works with as “joint Israeli and Palestinian” enterprises. In February 2009, a spokesperson wrote: “We currently take organic cut herbs from two farms in the West Bank on which a mixed Palestinian-Israeli workforce have worked side by side for many years.”
Waitrose has responded to some concerns about the conditions of labourers on settlement farms. However, the response has been to assure customers that each ‘supplier’ audits the relevant settlement farms using a “tight criteria” that relates to “worker hours, salaries and employment contracts.” This effectively means that Waitrose entrusts the auditing of settlement farms to the settlement company supplying the produce, presumably Carmel Agrexco. Waitrose claims that its technical directors have inspected its supplier farms in the West Bank.
Overall, Waitrose has been one of the most intransigent British supermarkets when faced with concern over sale of Israeli produce and Israeli settler produce. The chain has been the subject of protests and pickets across the UK, including in Brighton and London where protesters dressed as burglars and displayed banners claiming “Waitrose sells stolen goods”.
Waitrose Customer Service Department
Sainsbury’s sells Israeli oranges, grapefruit, avocados, strawberries, thyme, tarragon, parsley, coriander, rosemary, passion fruit, sharon fruit, ‘Shelly’ mangoes, mejdoul dates, lychees, fresh figs, plums, fruit juice, minneola (tangerines), potatoes (‘Desiree’, ‘Vivaldi’, ‘Rooster’, white, baking, baby, salad), sweet potatoes, peppers (‘Ramiro’), pickled cucumbers, pickled olives, radishes, ‘Splendid’ flowers, ‘Basics’ flowers, ‘Saveur Mediterranean’ hummous, turkey, smoked chicken breast, Rumples party pretzels, Osem croutons, Telma chicken soup mix and soups, feta cheese, Tivall vegetarian food range, ‘Food for Thought’ dips, table wine (red, white, rose & sparkling), Kiddush wine and Yarden wine and Osem foods.
This extensive list includes many products from illegal Israeli settlements, including fresh lemon grass from the West Bank and Sainsbury’s ‘Taste the Difference’ Pomodorino tomatoes. Sainsbury’s stocks Hadiklaim dates labelled ‘Made in West Bank’ and products from Soda Club, which has an office based in the settlement of Ma’leh Adumin.
Sainsbury’s has said, in correspondence with Boycott Israeli Goods Campaign supporters, that the store is not a political organisation and it does not boycott products from any country. Sainsbury’s does acknowledge, however, that “ethical trading is a growing area of concern for our company and consumers” and that it has an “ethical trading policy.” Whether ethical trading concerns would extend to the sale of goods from an apartheid regime on occupied land, that’s not something the retailer seems interested in answering.
Palestine solidarity campaigners have attended Sainsbury’s PLC shareholders meeting several years running, in an attempt to persuade the company to stop selling Israeli goods and to label its produce more accurately.
Sainsbury’s says it is committed to ‘informative labelling’, despite describing one piece of produce as being from ‘Gaza Strip, Israel’. After the 2007 ITN report about mislabelling of settlement Medjoul dates as ‘Produce of Israel’, Sainsbury’s admitted that it had mislabelled produce and stated that “as from today, all dates from the West Bank will be labelled as coming from the West Bank. We are investigating how this error occurred.”
Meetings have been held between Sainsbury’s management and campaigners and NGOs about the labelling of settlement goods. At a meeting in 2009, James Clark, a ‘public affairs and stakeholder relations spokesperson’, told campaigners that Justin King, CEO of J Sainsbury plc, had written to Hilary Benn, Secretary of State at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), asking him to clarify how retailers should label goods from Israeli settlements. Mr Clark said Sainsbury’s would be revising its labelling policy in the next six months and might consider labelling settlement produce ‘Produce of Israeli Settlement’. Mr Clark was not prepared to listen to arguments that settlements were illegal and argued that the store did not have instructions to this effect from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, despite the fact that this is clearly set out on the FCO website.
Sainsburys have been picketed across the UK by campaigners calling for a boycott of Israeli goods.
J Sainsbury plc
Somerfield sells both Israeli goods and settlement goods in its 880 stores. Apax Partners, an investment company with subsidiaries in Israel and which advises funds holding shares in Israeli settlement companies Tnuva, Agrexco Agricultural Export Company and Field Produce Ltd, has a majority of shares in Somerfield.
It seems that because of the takeover by the consortium dominated by Apax Partners in December 2005, Somerfield rescinded its commitment to the Ethical Trading Initiative. However, as of December 2008, Somerfield is in the process of being taken over by the Cooperative Group. It remains to be seen whether Somerfield, under new ownership, will take a similar stance to the Co-op against the sale of Israeli settlement produce.
tel: 0117 935 9359
fax: 0117 978 0629
Principal sources for this piece:
Boycott Israeli Goods Campaign – www.bigcampaign.org Palestine Israel Ethical Shopping Initiative – www.easi-piesi.org Coalition of Women for Peace: Who profits from the Occupation – www.whoprofits.org War on Want – www.waronwant.org Palestine Solidarity Campaign – www.palestinecampaign.org UK economic links with Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territory – Report produced by SOAS
Islamic Human Rights Commission – www.ihrc.org Brighton-Tubas Friendship and Solidarity Group – www.brightonpalestine.org
6. COFFEE SHOPS
Howard Shultz, the chairman of Starbucks, is claimed to be an active Zionist. This is based on the fact that he was given the ‘Israel 50th Anniversary Friend of Zion Tribute Award” by the Jerusalem Fund of Aish HaTorah for his services to the Zionist state in “playing a key role in promoting close alliance between the United States and Israel.” The Fund gives money to Israeli arms fairs, which have been chaired by General Shaul Mofaz (responsible for the assault on Jenin in 2002) and to the Zionist propaganda website honestreporting.com (which describes itself as “an organization dedicated to defending Israel against prejudice in the Media”). The Fund of Aish HaTorah is a staunchly pro-Israel organisation promoting religious and racial cohesion and pride.
Shultz received this award in 1998 and, by 2001, Starbucks made attempts to aid Israel’s failing economy by opening coffee shops in Israel through a joint venture company, Shalom Coffee Co, which was owned by publicly traded Israeli conglomerate Delek Group and Starbucks Coffee International, Starbucks’ internationally focused wholly-owned subsidiary. The Delek
Group is one of the largest investment groups based in Israel. The plan was to open 15 coffee shops by the end of 2002, but Starbucks only opened 6 shops, which had to be closed down in April 2003, due to financial losses caused by the severe recession and ‘security problems’.
Interestingly, after the shops closed, Zionists, and ultra-Zionists, such as the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) criticised Starbucks for pulling out of Israel. Others, such as the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, defended Starbucks, reassuring us that Shultz was indeed an ‘avid Zionist’ and ‘doing his best’.
According to isrelate.com, a website organised by people who believe “God has a special place for Israel”, Starbucks plans to continue its support for Israel. Starbucks sponsored a ‘Bowl 4 Israel’ fundraiser for a paratrooper unit in the Israel Defense Forces in 2003. Even though Starbucks has
recently made a statement saying it is a non-political organisation, suggesting that it should not be the target of pro-Palestinian protests (such as the recent destruction of its shops in London and Beirut at Gaza demonstrations), there are references to its Zionist connections on a number of pro-Israel websites as well as calls to boycott the company coming from a wide variety of groups. Even if the readily available evidence regarding Starbucks is simply that the company has entered into joint business ventures with Israel and Israeli companies in the past and that the company is held in high esteem by Zionist groups, that, together with the company’s record on other issues such as union-busting, is enough to consider buying your coffee somewhere else.
7. OIL & GAS
The BG Group plc, the former owner of the British Gas brand in the UK, which is now owned by Centrica, was granted oil and gas exploration rights offshore the Gaza Strip in a 25-year agreement signed in November 1999 with the Palestinian Authority under Yasser Arafat. The exploration licence covers the entire marine area offshore Gaza, which is contiguous with several Israeli offshore gas facilities. The BG Group holds 60 percent equity in the licence; its partner Consolidated Contractors International Company (CCC), which is based in Athens and owned by Lebanon’s Sabbagh and Koury families, holds 30 percent; and the Palestinian Authority’s Palestinian Investment Fund, the remaining 10 percent. The agreement also includes field development and the construction of a gas pipeline. Following acquisition of over 1,000 square kilometres of 3D seismic data, BG drilled two wells in 2000 (Gaza Marine-1 and Gaza Marine-2), with gas reserves estimated to be around 1.3 trillion cubic feet, valued at $4 billion. 60 percent of the gas reserves along the Gaza-Israel coastline belong to Palestine. BG had also struck gas off Israel’s coast in the 1990s but these fields, which have been producing for several years now, are much smaller.
After the death of Yasser Arafat and Hamas’s takeover of the Gaza Strip in the 2007 elections, both Israel and the BG Group said the political development would “not interfere” with the exploitation plans. The two sides reportedly arrived at an “understanding” that will transfer funds intended for the Palestinian Investment Fund into an international bank account, claiming the money could be used to fund “terror-related activities” (see here and here). Bypassing the Hamas government would enable Israel to establish de facto control over Gaza’s offshore gas reserves. In 2001, the newly elected Prime Minister Ariel Sharon stated unequivocally that “Israel would never buy gas from Palestine,” suggesting that Gaza’s offshore gas reserves belong to Israel.
BG’s original plans were to sell the Gaza’s natural gas to Egypt. However, pressure from former British Prime Minister Tony Blair led the company to reopen earlier failed negotiations with Israel for a pipeline development that would land the gas at Ashkelon, a southern Israeli city with a petroleum refinery. According to the Times, BG was in 2006 “close to signing a deal” to pump the gas to Egypt (see here). However, Tony Blair intervened “on behalf of Israel” with a view to shunting the agreement with Egypt. The following year, in May 2007, the Israeli Cabinet approved a proposal by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert “to buy gas from the Palestinian Authority.” The proposed contract was for $4 billion, with profits of the order of $2 billion, of which one billion was to go the Palestinians. Tel Aviv, however, had no intention of sharing the revenues with Palestine. An Israeli team of negotiators was set up by the Israeli Cabinet to thrash out a deal with the BG Group, bypassing both the Hamas government and Abu Mazen’s Palestinian Authority.
It should also be noted that, in September 2008, an Egyptian high court overruled a controversial 20-year deal on Egyptian gas exports to Israel (see here). Egypt had been Israel’s main natural gas supplier through Egyptian-Israeli consortium EMG (see here).
The BG Group states in its ‘Data Book 2008’ (and on its website) that in December 2007 it “withdrew from negotiations” with the Israeli government concerning the sale of gas from the Gaza Marine field to Israel, and that it is now “evaluating options for commercialising the gas.” The company further reassures us that it had closed its office in Israel in January 2008, and that it is currently “in the process of relinquishing the Med Yavne licence”, its main gas field in Israel (see here). Media reports, however, reveal that negotiations between BG and Israeli officials have, in fact, been renewed since June 2008 (see globes.co.il, for example). In November 2008, the Israeli Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of National Infrastructures instructed Israel Electric Corporation (IEC) to enter into negotiations with British Gas on the purchase of natural gas from the BG’s offshore concession in Gaza. The decision to speed up negotiations with the BG Group coincided with the planning of the invasion of Gaza initiated in June (see here). As Michel Chossudovsky concludes, “it would appear that Israel was anxious to reach an agreement with the BG Group prior to the invasion, which was already in an advanced planning stage.”
The BG Group is a UK-based oil and gas company which has its headquarters in Reading, Berkshire. In 2007, the company reported a revenue of £8,330m and total operating profits of £3,248m. In February 1997, the shareholders of British Gas plc approved the demerger of Centrica plc and British Gas plc was renamed BG plc. In December 1999, BG plc completed a financial restructuring which resulted in the creation of a new parent company, the BG Group plc. The BG Group has use of the trading name British Gas outside the UK, while Centrica owns the rights to use it within the UK.
For more on BG and Gaza’s offshore gas, see this article by Michel Chossudovsky. See also this timeline by David K. Schermerhorn. For more background, see this Electronic Intifada article.