Offshore Gas Drilling 311.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The High Court of Justice on Thursday surprised the state with a suggestion to
leapfrog over some of the normal procedure and to press the state to explain the
government’s decision not to involve the Knesset in the question of how much
natural gas should be exported.
The cabinet on June 23 approved plans to
keep 540 billion cubic meters of natural gas at home – thereby limiting exports
to 40 percent of the country’s estimated reserves.
The decision caused a
public outcry and opposition politicians, including Labor Party chairwoman
Shelly Yacimovich, petitioned the High Court against the government’s
Petition signers in addition to Yacimovich include Economic
Affairs Committee chairman Avishay Braverman (Labor), MK Moshe Gafni (United
Torah Judaism) and MK Reuven Rivlin (Likud Beytenu).
enormous importance of the decision and despite the obligation to anchor it in
the legislative framework of the Knesset, the Israeli government refrained from
taking the requested democratic step and decided to avoid bringing the subject
for a democratic, transparent and comprehensive discussion in the Knesset,” the
The petition was scheduled for an initial hearing on
Thursday by a standard threejustice panel, but Supreme Court President Asher D.
Grunis said the issue warranted review by an expanded panel of justices and
suggested that the state accept a conditional order to formally freeze the
government policy pending an expedited hearing getting to the heart of the
issues on Monday.
Normally, the court has two rounds of review: one on
whether to issues a conditional or freeze order temporarily holding up a new
policy, which in and of itself can take several hearings and weeks or longer,
followed by another series of hearings on whether to uphold or strike down a new
Grunis made it clear that his unusual suggestion of basically
skipping the first stage and proceeding to the final stage of the issue in a
matter of days was not only him brushing aside the state’s procedural objections
to the petition, but also to satisfy the state, since the earlier the court
decides, the earlier the policy can go into effect if the state wins.
state was given until Monday’s hearing to respond to Grunis’s suggestion of
entering a conditional order and jumping to the final stages of the court’s
Immediately following the Thursday morning
decision, Yacimovich expressed satisfaction with the results and praised the
justices for “recognizing the great importance of the issue.”
Court] announced that it is expanding the panel that will discuss the subject
and basically said that it is working as if it has already launched a
conditional order on the way the government decided on the export of 40 percent
of the gas,” Yacimovich said. “It is a shame that Prime Minister Netanyahu and
Finance Minister Lapid did not understand the obvious themselves – that this is
a crucial decision for the future of the State of Israel, which cannot be made
hastily and in closed rooms, but through a thorough and transparent process and
with the cooperation of the public.”
Yacimovich called upon the prime
minister to immediately move the discussion of the gas issue to the bounds of
Braverman said that the High Court’s decision “brings
support to our stance that this is a weighty issue that requires an open and
transparent public discussion.”
Braverman, too, called upon Netanyahu to
bring the discussion to the Knesset – to the Economic Affairs Committee that he
Amit Bracha, executive director of Adam Teva V’Din (Israel Union
for Environmental Defense), said the court decision to expand the discussion “is
a warning to the Israeli government” and stressed that the prime minister should
“do the right thing already now” and bring the decision to the
Adam Teva V’Din, along with the Movement for Quality Government,
had submitted an additional petition to the High Court following that of
Yacimovich, likewise calling upon the government to cancel the decision on gas
exports and have the Knesset decide on the exports issue.
calculations and optimistic forecasts will lead the Israeli energy sector to a
tragic situation in which Israel will need in another 25 years to re-import
fossil fuels that are more polluting than natural gas, and are likely more
expensive than natural gas,” the Adam Teva V’Din and Movement for Quality
Government petition said.
A collective group of activists who call
themselves the Struggle for the Preservation of Israeli Gas similar welcomed the
High Court’s decision to expand the discussion of the issue, declaring that this
“proves the magnitude of the public importance of the issue and strengthens the
justification of the widespread public struggle that we have conducted thus
Members of Green Course, the environmental activism organization
run by university students, expressed satisfaction with the High Court’s
decision thus far.
“Netanyahu and Lapid called us hallucinatory,
populists – now we see that the justices, like the protesters, recognize the
importance of an expanded discussion on this subject,” said Michal Shukrun, a
spokeswoman for Green Course.
Neither the Energy and Water Ministry nor
the natural gas developers made any comments at this time.