High Court to state: Our ruling on gas can wait

Issue rooted in a June 23 cabinet decision to maintain 540 billion cubic meters of natural gas at home.

September 15, 2013 22:29
2 minute read.
The Tamar gas processing rig off the coast of Israel

The Tamar gas processing rig off the coast of Israel 370. (photo credit: Noble Energy)

With the High Court of Justice on Sunday rejecting a state petition – practically begging the court to hold the originally scheduled hearing on its game-changing gas policy, this week instead of the postponed date of October 20 – the government and the judiciary engaged in a rare public battle over whose time was more important.

Back on August 5, the state had agreed to the handing down of an interim order against its gas export policy by the High Court, freezing the policy until the court rules whether the Knesset and not just the government should decide how much natural gas Israel should export.

But the state had requested that the court expedite that decision so that the developers can begin to extract the gas and the country can start to benefit from the resource.

The court had ordered that the panel of justices for the case would be broadened from the standard three, showing the case’s importance, and not long after, scheduled the next hearing for September 17.

Recently the court threw the state a curve ball, postponing the September 17 hearing until October 20, with no real explanation.

But what happened next was the extremely rare part.

The state, just last week, filed a rare formal motion, essentially imploring the court to hear the issues this week as originally scheduled, professing the profound transformative impact of the new policy and the need to start it immediately, as well as citing numerous precedents for expediting a case.

In an atypical bare-knuckles clash, the court shot back with no sympathy whatsoever, stating basically that there were lots of other important cases on the calendar too, that the courts are very busy and that this case and the government could wait like everyone else until after the Jewish holidays had concluded (plus a few weeks).

The issue is rooted in a June 23 cabinet decision to maintain 540 billion cubic meters of natural gas at home – thereby limiting exports to 40 percent of the country’s estimated reserves.

The decision caused an immediate public outcry and opposition politicians, including Labor Party chairwoman Shelly Yacimovich, petitioned the High Court against the government’s action. MKs that signed the petition included Economic Affairs Committee chairman Avishay Braverman (Labor), MK Moshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism) and MK Reuven Rivlin (Likud Beytenu).

Following the August 5 decision, Yacimovich said she was pleased with the government’s consenting to the expanded High Court discussion on the issue.

“The government’s agreement to an expanded discussion demonstrates an understanding, even if late, that this subject is too significant and critical to be behind closed doors without public discussion,” Yacimovich said. “It would be good if the prime minister would decide already now to bring the issue to the Knesset for an in-depth public discussion.”

Sharon Udasin contributed to this story.

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