Just one day after the government approved a natural gas export policy, an
opposition force from across the political spectrum, led by Labor leader Shelly
Yacimovich, petitioned the High Court of Justice on Monday morning, demanding
that the decision on gas exports be made instead within the
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 cubic meters 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.
Sunday’s approved proposal was a
revision of the recommendations of the Zemach Committee, an interministerial
committee led by Energy and Water Ministry director-general Shaul Zemach and
tasked with advising the government on a suitable export policy.
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
needs. 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 for a
decision on the fate of its natural gas reserves to be made within the confines
of the Knesset, however, Yacimovich filed the High Court petition on Monday
morning, with MK Reuven Rivlin (Likud Beytenu), MK Avishay Braverman (Labor) and
MK Moshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism).
Gafni, as the chairman of the
Science and Technology Committee, is currently preparing for the second and
third readings of a bill that will establish a specific fund for state gas
Other signatories on the petition included the Legal Clinic
for Corporate Social Responsibility at the Academic Center for Law and Business
of Ramat Gan, as well as several NGOs: the Israel Energy Forum, Israel Yekara
Lanu, and the Organization for Sustainable Economics.
The petition is
being served against the government, the prime minister, the energy and water
minister, the Knesset and many of the companies exploring in the eastern
Mediterranean – including Noble Energy, Avner Oil Exploration, Delek Drilling,
Dor Gas Explorations, Isramco and Ratio Oil Exploration, among others.
the petition, the signatories first request a conditional order to freeze any
government action that has already occurred on the export subject, which would
also include a demand for the state to explain the basis of its argument in more
detail. If they are able to receive this conditional order, then there will be a
second battle during which the court will make its final decision on the
The petitioners argue that only the Knesset has the power to make
fateful decisions on the gas issue. The argument essentially is that since the
decisions will impact virtually every sector of Israeli society, multiple
generations and everyone’s fundamental economic and social liberties, the
Knesset must decide all issues.
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 state’s
Next, the petition attempts to cite portions of a legal opinion
by Deputy Attorney-General Avi Licht on the issue in support of its
It cites Licht’s statements also calling the issue one of
“first impression” and that there are doubts regarding whether any previous
Knesset legislation, such as Section 33 of the Oil Law of 1952, addressed the
issue, as proof that Licht mostly agrees with the petitioners’
However, the petition also cites Licht’s final conclusion: that
while it would be “desirable” for the entire Knesset to take up the issue, there
is no legal violation if the issue is decided solely by a government decision,
since the decision can, if necessary, be based on Section 33 of the Oil Law, and
that the need for speed in moving the gas exploration projects forward provides
additional justification for a streamlined approval process.
criticizes Licht’s conclusion as being inconsistent with his overall analysis of
the issue, and as artificially bending toward the government’s desired
conclusion despite the overall weight of the applicable legal
Economic Affairs Committee chairman Braverman specifically
blasted Licht’s nod to the need for speed as a central reason for avoiding
Knesset involvement, as he said he had “already told the prime minister in
writing on Saturday night that the Economic Affairs Committee will hold
discussion in August, if necessary, in order to help quicken the legislative
process, but the prime minister ignored it and decided to skip the
The Attorney-General’s Office itself refused to comment on the
issue, beyond noting that it had sent its legal opinion to the government for
The High Court has ordered the state to respond to the petition
within 15 days, according to a spokeswoman for Yacimovich.
“I am not in
the habit, as a Knesset member, of turning to the High Court of Justice to
compel the government or the Knesset to do something; however, on this issue,
there was no other choice to maintain the honor of the Knesset and protect the
public debate,” Rivlin posted on his Facebook page after submitting the
Involving the public is critical in this latest gas decision,
as it will likely have a significant impact on the economic and social strength
of Israelis in the coming decades, he explained.
“From now on any topic
relating to or influencing or having any implications on this issue, certainly
like the topic of gas export, must be required to pass through the Knesset,”
Rivlin explained. “My personal stance on the issue of gas export distribution is
not relevant, but the procedure here is the important matter.”
response to the petition, MK Ophir Akunis (Likud-Beytenu), who is close to the
prime minister, said that the decision of Knesset members to turn to the High
Court does not strengthen the Knesset, but rather weakens it.
government decision is proportionate and balanced,” Akunis said. “The role of
government is to govern and make decisions, and it manages the state according
to the law.”Gil Hoffman contributed to this report.