Egypt's presidential candidates on Sunday welcomed the decision to terminate the gas deal with Israel, calling it "the will of the people."
"The Egyptian people, who managed to withstand Israel and refused normalization despite the peace treaty, is definitely not interested in the gas export agreement with Israel," Abd el-Munam Abu al-Fatuah, one of the leading presidential candidates, said.
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During an interview with al-Hayat TV station, Fatuah said that he does not see the export of gas to Israel as part of the normalization process. "As long as the Egyptian people don't want it, the president has to abide by their wishes," he said, adding that he had asked the Foreign Ministry to reexamine the deal in the past, but was told that it was under the responsibility of the presidential palace, and not the ministry.
Explosion in gas pipe (archives photo: EPA)
Fatuah criticized former President Hosni Mubarak, claiming that his regime protected Israel's interests over that of its own people.
Fatuah's presidential rival, Hamdeen Sabahi, posted a message on Twitter, expressing hope that the decision to discontinue gas exports to Israel will be permanent, "Out of respect to the Egyptian people and in order to sustain Egypt's national resources."
'Not a political decision'
Meanwhile, Israeli officials claimed on Sunday that the decision had to do with a commercial dispute between a private company and Egyptian governmental companies, and had nothing to do with the relationship between the two countries; but an official at Ampal-American Israel Corporation, a partner in the East Mediterranean Gas Company (EMG) said that "Israel's government was evading responsibility by trying to paint the decision as merely a commercial or economic one.
"This is a blatant political decision, which can send Egypt 30 years backwards," the official said.
'Blatant political decision.' Peace treaty with Egypt
However, some Egyptian officials echoed Israel's claim that the decision came on the heels of a commercial dispute. Former Egyptian official Ibrahim Yasri, who was in charge of international agreements in Egypt's Foreign Ministry, told Al-Masry Al-Youm on Sunday that the decision stems from the Israeli companies' failure to make payments.
Mohamed Shoeb, the head of the Egyptian Natural Gas Holding Company also said Sunday it had terminated its contract because of violations of contractual obligations.
Shoeb stressed the decision to cancel the deal was not political.
"This has nothing to do with anything outside of the commercial relations," he told The Associated Press.
Either way, a senior Jerusalem official stressed that the decision did not come as a surprise: "There are internal pressures from the Egyptian public and the Muslim Brotherhood to annul the agreement, which as far as they are concerned is part of the cycle of corruption set up by the previous regime.
"On top of that, the Egyptians don’t want to deal with the Bedouins in the Sinai Peninsula who keep blowing up parts of the gas pipe every few weeks. But the main purpose behind the Egyptian decision is to satisfy public opinion, especially ahead of the upcoming elections. Canceling the gas deal with Israel does not violate the peace agreement, because the deal is between companies who are supported by the governments," he said.
Roi Kais contributed to this decision