Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein 370 (R).
(photo credit: Ronen Zvulun / Reuters)
Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein came out swinging on Sunday in a legal
response to defend the government’s natural gas export policy in the face of a
petition filed by a group of MKs led by opposition leader Shelly Yacimovich
before the High Court of Justice.
Yacimovich along with MK Reuven Rivlin
(Likud Beytenu), MK Avishay Braverman (Labor) and MK Moshe Gafni (United Torah
Judaism) filed the petition on June 25, just one day after the government, demanding that the decision on gas exports be made by the full Knesset, and
not by a mere cabinet vote.
Proposed by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu
together with Energy and Water Minister Silvan Shalom, Finance Minister Yair
Lapid and Bank of Israel Gov. Stanley Fischer, the export policy called for
maintaining 540 billion cu. m. of gas within the country’s domestic
reserves, thereby restricting exports to 40 percent of the country’s current
reserves, rather than the original 53% ceiling suggested.
proposal was a revision of the recommendations of the Zemach Committee, an
interministerial committee led by Energy and Water Ministry directorgeneral
Shaul Zemach and tasked with advising the government on a suitable export
Even with the upgraded percentages suggested for domestic
allocation, environmentalists have been up in arms, arguing that the quantity is
insufficient for the country’s energy, transportation and petrochemical industry
The developers of Israel’s eastern Mediterranean reservoirs, on
the other hand, have argued that the swift implementation of a stable export
policy is crucial to both the harvesting of the currently found gas as well as
for encouraging future exploration.
Although gas from the 282-b. cu.m.
Tamar basin is already flowing, working on developing the adjacent 535- b. cu.m.
Leviathan reservoir cannot begin without first solidifying an export policy, the
companies have explained.
Arguing that it is the public’s right that a
decision on the fate of the country’s natural gas reserves be reached within the
confines of the Knesset, however, Yacimovich led the unusual group of allies in
opposing the decision before the High Court.
In legal jargon, the
petitioners also put forth the argument that the issue is a fundamental one of
“first impression,” meaning it has never been dealt with before and, on that
basis also, must be addressed and regulated by the Knesset as the preeminent
branch of government in Israel, and the one which most directly represents the
At the same time, Knesset Legal Adviser Eyal Yinon
contradicted Weinstein, and taking the side of the petitioners that the new
policy must be decided by the full Knesset, even if there are formalistic
arguments that could be made to defend a mere government decision on the
The environmental advocacy group Adam Teva V’Din (Israel Union for
Environmental Defense), which also recently filed a petition against the
government’s decision to pass the export policy in its current form, praised the
publication of Knesset legal adviser’s opinion.
Dr. Arie Wenger, head of
the air and energy department at Adam Teva V’Din warned that the decision could
force the State of Israel, in 25 years from now, to pay more than NIS 13 billion
a year on fossil fuels that are not gas.
“The stance of the Knesset legal
adviser reinforces our position that the rules of proper administration
stipulate that a decision of such great magnitude, like gas export, will only be
taken after an in-depth discussion in the Knesset, in a way that enables all
stakeholders to present their stance and partake in a discussion that is
transparent, and not dark,” said Amit Bracha, executive director of Adam Teva
But Weinstein fought hard to defend the government’s authority to
decide the issue, noting that Section 33 of the Oil Law of 1952 already
empowered the Energy and Water Ministry and the government to make all state
decisions regarding which percentages of resources would be exported, and which
kept for domestic use.
The state added that while there is certainly a
trend of interpreting and encouraging the Knesset to pass laws dealing with
major new issues that arise, such as the major spike in the state’s gas
resources, this is only a general trend, and is not legally
Weinstein went even further, saying that if the court intervened
to stop the government from acting and to force a Knesset law, it would be
violating the separation of powers between branches of government by essentially
ordering the legislative branch to amend or add to its 1952 law.
the attorney-general contended, the government would be failing its duty to act
swiftly to harvest and preserve the state’s energy rights in the face of
potential challenges by neighbors like Lebanon if it did not move forward now.
He said that some of the petitioners were holding up attempted legislation on
the issue in the Knesset, which left the government no other choice.