On Sunday, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will recommend that the cabinet
approve Israel’s export policy for selling our abundant offshore natural gas
Netanyahu, Finance Minister Yair Lapid and Energy and Water
Minister Silvan Shalom agreed during a closed meeting this week to a modified
version of the Zemach Committee recommendations.
The most controversial
issues surrounding the proposals – the share of natural gas earmarked for export
– was cut from 53 percent of the total amount of gas estimated to be found in
the Tamar and Leviathan gas fields to 40 percent.
Local and foreign gas
giants that include Noble Energy, Delek Drilling, Avner Oil Exploration and
Isramco had put pressure on the members of the Zemach Committee to maximize
exports, to ensure that the gas is sold at a premium. The companies even
threatened to “leave the gas in the ground” unless enough was set aside for
Protocols from the meetings of the committee, which finished its
work eight months ago, show there was a clear majority opinion in favor of
accommodating business interests. Outgoing Environmental Protection Ministry
director-general Alona Schaefer-Karo was the sole dissenting voice.
as the Zemach Committee’s recommendations were publicized and discussed, public
awareness to the tremendous stakes involved sparked grassroots opposition.
Weekly demonstrations on the street corners of our cities and outside the homes
of the energy and finance ministers led by environmentalists, social activists
and citizens fed up with the annoying regularity with which the interests of big
business trump the greater good of society and free market principles had an
impact on policy-makers. Netanyahu, Shalom and Lapid adopted Schaefer-Karo’s
dissenting opinion. More gas would be set aside for domestic use. The public
proved that it would not be put off by an issue involving complicated or arcane
concepts such as retrograde condensation and GTL (the gas-to-liquids refinery
The challenge facing our policy-makers is how best to balance
the interests of the gas giants, who took great risks and invested hundreds of
millions in exploration, with the needs of society. Obviously, private investors
who succeeded where state-owned firms failed for decades to uncover gas or oil
are entitled to profit from their efforts.
Exploration companies are
rightly wary of entering into an arrangement until they are assured that the
terms of deal are worth their while.
At the same time, large quantities
of cheap natural gas could transform the economy and radically improve our
standard of living. Industries and transportation would operate at lower cost
and produce less pollution. The Israel Electric Corporation would be able to
produce power much more cheaply, lowering all of our electric bills. If too much
gas is diverted to destinations outside Israel, these benefits could be
Much depends on finding the right balance between competing
interests. How best to allocate our abundant gas reserves is perhaps the
singlemost important economic decision to be made in years, if not decades. At
stake are hundreds of billions of dollars, the standard of life for millions of
Israelis and the protection of our environment.
It is therefore
imperative that the decision-making process be democratic, transparent and
Deputy Attorney-General Avi Licht is reportedly deliberating
over whether the cabinet alone can decide Israel’s gas export policy or whether
the Knesset must approve it.
We hope that the broadest forum possible is
involved. Regardless of the final decision, the public must be satisfied that
such a fateful matter is discussed openly and that as many scenarios as possible
are considered. This can only be achieved if the Knesset plenum and various
Knesset committees consider policy options in free and open debate.