Tamar gas field.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Economic Affairs Committee chairman Eitan Cabel pledged Saturday night to “tear off the masks” of those exploiting the Israeli public ahead of Sunday’s discussions of the final step necessary toward activating the country’s natural gas outline.
Although the deal in question received both required cabinet authorization in August and additional Knesset backing in September, implementing the outline still demands that the economy minister invoke a legal clause to circumvent the objections of the antitrust commissioner. After former economy minister Arye Deri’s resigned from his position three weeks ago, it became Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s responsibility as economy minister to consult with the Knesset Economic Affairs Committee prior to activating that clause – known as Article 52.
“Starting Sunday, the Economic Affairs Committee under my leadership will launch a professional and serious quest to uncover the reasons why the economy minister and prime minister insist upon bypassing the professional authority of all the regulators by making use of a power that has never been used before,” Cabel wrote on Facebook.
Explaining that he has met with experts on the subject “with an open heart and a willing soul,” the committee chairman stressed that almost all of them have described the outline as “the lesser of the evils.” He expressed his disappointment that relevant officials are not working toward obtaining a solution that is actually positive for Israeli citizens, rather than simply advancing the least offensive option.
“I will fight with all the parliamentary means at my disposal to tear off the masks from the faces of those exploiting the fact that most of the public does not understand the implications of this outline for the future of Israeli citizens,” Cabel said.
The natural gas outline is the result of some eight months of negotiations that followed former antitrust commissioner David Gilo’s December announcement that he intended to review whether the market dominance of Delek Group and Noble Energy constituted an illegal “restrictive agreement.”
After issuing several iterations of a compromise outline and following a public objections period, the government authorized the terms of the deal in August.
Yet Gilo – who resigned over the issue and completed his term on August 31 – refused to support the outline, saying it would stifle competition in the gas market. To bypass such a refusal, the economy minister can invoke Article 52 of the 1988 Restrictive Trade Practices Law (The Antitrust Law), citing national security interests.
Deri was not willing to invoke Article 52, arguing that the clause had never been implemented in the country’s history.
Following Deri’s November 1 resignation, Netanyahu assumed the role of economy minister. While Netanyahu is required to consult with the Economic Affairs Committee prior to invoking Article 52, the committee’s recommendations are not legally binding.
Earlier this month, National Infrastructure, Energy and Water Minister Yuval Steinitz said the committee sessions would likely conclude by mid-December, enabling the gas deal to be fully activated by the new year.
On Saturday night, demonstrations against the natural gas outline occurred in some 20 locations around the country, for the third weekend in a row. The protests, which have been led by the Gas Campaign Staff group and the nationwide student movement Green Course, demand an end to what they have deemed a “robbery” of public rights.
For his part, Cabel stressed that anyone who thinks his committee’s recommendations will be able to be “ignored as if they were nothing is living in ‘la la land.’” “I do not know what the Economic Affairs Committee will decide at the end of the day and what my opinion will be, but despite everything, I am going to listen to anyone who appears before us,” Cabel wrote on Saturday. “If I conclude that this outline is not in the best interest of the Israeli people, I will do everything I can to make sure it is not approved.”