A man points as he stands on a tanker carrying liquified natural gas, ten miles off the coast from Hadera.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Ahead of the likely security cabinet decision on the ongoing natural gas dispute Thursday afternoon, Opposition leader Isaac Herzog (Zionist Union) demanded that Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein (Likud) bring the gas issue before the Knesset.
"Today, the cabinet is supposed to make a crucial decision on the subject of the gas outline," Herzog wrote on his Facebook page, following a conversation with Edelstein on Thursday morning. "This decision will have implications for future generations. I reiterate my demand for the prime minister to bring the gas outline before the Israeli Knesset."
Herzog argued that a decision of this magnitude cannot occur "behind closed doors," and demanded that Edelstein "use his moral and political authority to make sure that this will happen." According to Herzog, Edelstein responded that the issue does mandate a plenary discussion and he promised to take the request seriously.
The advancement of Israel’s natural gas sector – and particularly the development of the Leviathan reservoir – has been largely frozen since December, after Antitrust Commissioner David Gilo said he would review whether the dominance of the Delek Group and Noble Energy constitutes an illegal “restrictive agreement.”
After months of negotiations among government officials and the natural gas companies, the security cabinet was slated to make a decision on Thursday afternoon regarding the terms of a final outline agreement. Such a decision would also be contingent upon Economy Minister Arye Deri's willingness to institute Article 52 of the Antitrust Law, in which an economy minister can exempt the antitrust commissioner from interfering in a “restrictive agreement” due to reasons of foreign policy or security.
Activating this article was necessary in this circumstance due to Antitrust Commissioner David Gilo's disagreement with the other government officials on the final terms of the outline. Promising not to use the article as a "rubber stamp" to pass the deal, Economy Minister Arye Deri stressed in a letter on Monday night that the clause had never yet been implemented in Israel's history.
Regarding this clause, Economic Affairs Committee chairman Eitan Cabel (Zionist Union) claimed on Thursday morning that the institution of Article 52 of the Antitrust Law could not actually occur without his approval.
Cabel warned that "the cabinet cannot make a decision regarding the final approval of the outline agreement with the gas companies prior to consultation with the Knesset Economic Affairs Committee."
The Economic Affairs Committee chairman cited the article's text, which reads: "The minister may, after consultation with the Economic Affairs Committee of the Knesset, exempt restrictive arrangements from the provision of this law, all or in part, if he considers this necessary for reasons of foreign policy or national security."
Also prior to the decision on Thursday morning, MK Haim Yellin (Yesh Atid) accused Netanyahu of "continuing a campaign of intimidation and claiming that the gas will remain in the ground," by means of "intimidation" tactics.
"The real debate is not about gas and natural resources of the State of Israel; the debate is about who takes care of the citizens and safeguards the public interest," Yellin said. "The Netanyahu government, which promised to be a government for everyone, needs to make a decision for the people and not just for the rich minority of the population."