National Infrastructures, Energy and Water Ministry Director-General Shaul Zemach – who led the Zemach Committee in determining natural gas export limits – announced his intention to resign from his position on Monday.
After serving for more than four years, Zemach will continue in that capacity until a successor is selected, as per the request of National Infrastructures, Energy and Water Minister Silvan Shalom, the ministry said.
During his tenure, Zemach oversaw an energy sector that has undergone a revolution, particularly in the development of the Tamar natural gas reservoir and in the conversion of the Israeli economy to natural gas use, the ministry added.
Perhaps most notable in his four-year term was Zemach’s leadership role in the Zemach Committee, an inter-ministerial body tasked with determining how much natural gas Israel should keep and how much it should allow for export.
In its initial conclusions early last fall, the committee recommended that the country set a maximum export allocation of 500 billion cu.m.
In addition, it called for keeping at least 450 b. cu.m. at home, in order to ensure a 25- to-30-year supply of the resource within Israel’s borders.
When the conclusions were unveiled, environmentalists responded in uproar, arguing that much more gas needs to be kept home.
Following the recommendations of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Shalom, Finance Minister Yair Lapid and outgoing Bank of Israel Governor Stanley Fisher, the cabinet in June decided to increase the quantities that remain home to 540b. cu.m – equivalent to 53 percent of the current reserve estimations rather than the previous 40% recommendation.
This decision has remained highly unpopular among many, and Labor chairwoman Shelly Yacimovich led a High Court petition, demanding that all decisions about gas export quantities occur within the bounds of the Knesset. On Sunday, the hearing scheduled for this week on the subject was postponed until October 20.
Thanking Shalom for his “confidence and support,” Zemach praised the minister’s “determined action to advance the main issues in the energy sector, particularly leading the government decision to adopt the recommendations of the Zemach Committee.”
In return, the minister praised Zemach for his contributions to the energy sector, which, he stressed, should be both admired and respected.
In addition to his work in the natural gas sector, Zemach played a pivotal role in enhancing international cooperation in the energy sector, such as with the United States Department of Energy and with the Energy Commission of the European Union, the ministry explained, adding that he also worked on formulating an up-to-date and comprehensive master plan for the energy sector.
“I think he had good intentions and eventually, in my opinion, he tried to compromise with his conclusion...which eventually went against him,” said Miki Korner, founder and CEO of the M. Korner oil and energy consultancy group. Korner also served as an adviser during the drafting of the Zemach Committee report.
When politics took over, Korner stressed, Zemach – despite his “good intentions” – did not stand up for his conclusions, based on knowledge, regarding necessary export quantities.
“Once he was not very firm, everybody started fighting with his decision,” Korner told The Jerusalem Post.
“The economy of Israel has suffered because there was no decision,” he added. “If he would have been [firmer] in the beginning, it would have been easier to come to some kind of a decision.”
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