AMMAN, Jordan — Thousands of Jordanians rallied in downtown Amman on Friday to protest a recently inked natural-gas deal with Israeli investors, accusing the government of supporting “enemy occupiers” of Palestinian land.
Carrying signs reading “No to supporting terrorism” and “No to stolen gas,” a crowd of about 3,000 Jordanians chanted “The people want an end to Wadi Araba,” a reference to the kingdom’s 1994 peace treaty with Israel.
The protest, which was led by leftists and pro-Palestinian activists, was the fourth against the new deal in as many days. Activists said that for Jordanians, who rarely hit the streets, it was a barometer of widespread frustration.
“All of Jordan agrees, we do not want to be dependent on an entity that occupies Palestinian land,” said Yasser Baz, 53, who attended the rally.
Under the $10 billion agreement, which was signed Monday, a U.S.-Israel consortium will supply Jordan with 1.6 trillion cubic feet of gas from the Leviathan gas field in the Mediterranean. Jordan has no oil reserves of its own and relies on imports for 96 percent of its energy needs.
The government says that by securing stable energy prices for the next decade, it can reduce a $530 million annual budget deficit caused by subsidized electricity prices.
Jordan relied on subsidized oil from Saddam Hussein in neighboring Iraq during the 1990s and later natural gas from Egypt under strongman Hosni Mubarak in return for the kingdom’s political support.
With Mubarak gone, Jordan has faced skyrocketing costs but has refused to raise electricity prices, fearing Arab Springinspired protests. As a result, the state-run NEPCO utility has racked up $7 billion in debt since 2012.
Proponents of the deal, which will provide Jordan with 40 percent of its energy needs, say it will prevent a debt crisis, and NEPCO maintains that it will save the country $600 million a year.
But the agreement is so politically sensitivity that not a single Jordanian government official was willing to comment on it publicly until a week after the signing.
Critics are concerned that billions of dollars in taxes and revenue will go back to the Israeli government and might help fund the Israeli military, its occupation of the West Bank and its wars in Gaza against Palestinian militants. Palestinians and their descendants make up about half of the Jordanian population.
While Noble Energy, a U.S.-based firm, is a 40 percent shareholder in the Leviathan gas field, critics point out that its partners are Israeli companies Delek Drilling, Ratio Oil Exploration and Avner Oil Exploration.
“We don’t want to help the Israeli economy, to help the Israeli government buy more guns to point and shoot at Palestinians,” said Maymona Omer, a 29-year-old nurse, as she walked with her twin daughters.
Many also are worried that by depending on Israeli gas, Jordan will be compromised as an advocate for the rights of Palestinians, a broker for a two-state solution and a custodian of the al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. Under a special agreement between Israel and Jordan, Jordan’s King Abdullah II has custodianship of Islamic and Christian holy sites in Jerusalem.
“If they don’t like our politics, so critics say, they can simply turn off the tap,” said Daoud Kuttab, a commentator and director general of the Amman-based Community Media Network.
The Muslim Brotherhood, Jordan’s largest opposition group and the most powerful party in the parliament, vowed it would work to repeal the agreement.
“We will advocate at all levels to end a deal which is putting Jordanian taxpayers’ money in the hands of an occupying force they object to,” said Ali Abu Sukkar, deputy head of the Islamic Action Front, the Brotherhood’s political arm in Jordan.
“At the end of the day, we consider this stolen Palestinian gas, and the revenues should be going to the Palestinian people, not used against them,” he said.
Jordan’s parliament voted against the gas deal in 2014. But the government says it does not need parliamentary approval because the agreement is between two companies rather than sovereign nations.
“The government played a dirty game. They arranged for this signing while there was no parliament, so the people couldn’t have their voices heard,” said Mohammed Darwish, 35, a protester. “We won’t let them off the hook.”
Oil was hovering around $80 when Jordan began talks with Noble Energy. Oil has since plummeted to around $45 a barrel, deal opponents and lawmakers point out.
“This deal is no longer in the best interest of Jordanians economically, energy-wise or morally,” said Jammal Gamou, head of the parliament’s energy committee and an opponent of the deal.
Despite the fury, observers say the agreement is all but set in stone.
“The opposition is loud, but will they be able to stop it? Unlikely,” Kuttab said. “It is a done deal, and with the numbers involved, the government is sending the message that it will not be challenged.”
But the impact on Jordanians — and their trust in the government — may be lasting.
“We do not get to pick the government, and the government forces on us an agreement that all of us, including our parliament, refuses,” said Fadhel Abbas, 29, an architect and protester. “The will of the people will be respected, if the regime is willing to listen or not.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story said that Jordan’s parliament voted against a gas deal with Israel in 2014 similar to one the government recently signed. It was the same deal.