Nazareth, Israel -- Israeli investors had reason to celebrate last month with the news that Israel may soon be joining the club of oil-producing states, in addition to its recent finds of large natural gas deposits off the coast.
Shares in Givot Olam, an Israeli oil exploration company, rallied on reports that it had located much larger oil reserves at its Meged 5 site than previously estimated.
The company, which says it has already sold $40m worth of oil since the Meged field went operational in 2011, now believes that the well is sitting on exploitable reserves of as much as 3.53 billion barrels -- about a seventh of Qatar's proven oil reserves.
Only one cloud looms on the horizon. It is unclear how much of this new-found oil wealth actually belongs to Israel. The well sits on the so-called Green Line, the armistice line of 1948 that formally separates Israel from the occupied Palestinian territories.
According to Palestinian officials, Israel has moved the course of its concrete and steel separation wall -- claiming security -- to provide Givot Olam with unfettered access to the site, between the Israeli town of Rosh Haayin and the Palestinian village of Rantis, north-west of Ramallah.
Dror Etkes, an Israeli researcher who tracks Israeli activities in the West Bank, said the Meged site was "a few dozen metres" inside the Green Line.
Israel and Givot Olam, however, have made access difficult, arguing that Meged 5 is affected by an Israeli military firing range next to it on the other side of the Green Line, in occupied Palestinian territory. In the past, Israeli media have been barred from filming or photographing the site.
Etkes, however, said he was unaware of any military training ever having taken place at the firing range.
But what seems clear is that the oil field extends over a very large area, with much of the reserves believed to lie under Palestinian territory in the West Bank.
Oil in the occupied territories
Although the Israeli energy and water ministry declined to comment publicly on Meged 5, a senior official privately told Al Jazeera that the field extended at least 125 sq km, and possibly as much as 250 sq km.
According to the Oslo accords, Israel is obligated to coordinate any exploration for natural resources in shared territory with the Palestinian Authority, and reach agreements on how to divide the benefits.
Ashraf Khatib, an official at the PA's negotiations support unit, said the Meged oil field was part of Israel's general "theft of Palestinian national resources."
"The problem for us is that the occupation is not just about settlements and land confiscation. Israel is also massively profiting from exploiting our resources. There's lots of money in it for Israel, which is why the occupation has become so prolonged," he said.
Last year, when Meged 5's reserves were believed to be 1.5 billion barrels -- less than half the current estimates -- Jamil al-Mutaur, deputy chairman of the Palestinian Environmental Quality Authority, threatened to sue Israel in the international courts for its unilateral operations at Meged.
Gidon Bromberg, director of environmental group Friends of the Earth Middle East, said his group would submit questions to the Israeli government about Meged 5.
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