(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Energy and Water Minister Yuval Steinitz on Monday accused leading opponents of the government’s gas plan of acting out of populism and not in the public’s interest.
In a briefing to the Knesset Reporters’ Association Steinitz singled out Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon and Environmental Protection Minister Avi Gabbay for criticism, for objecting to the plan although they are a part of the government that authorized it.
Kahlon is prohibited from voting on the policy because of his friendship with Kobi Maimon, an investor, and he took his avoidance of a conflict of interest even further than legally required, refusing to vote in the Knesset on a procedural matter related to the plan.
As such, Steinitz said he was “very surprised” to hear that Kahlon told the media that the policy outline could have been made better for the public.
“Not only does [Kahlon] not know about the outline, he refused to hear about it. He walked out when it was presented to the cabinet and in the Knesset... He didn’t want to know. I expect a minister to know before saying something,” Steinitz said. “The citizens of Israel deserve better.”
As for Gabbay, expected to speak critically about the plan at an upcoming Knesset Economic Affairs Committee meeting, Steinitz said: “I think it’s “inappropriate for ministers to demonstrate against the government, and I’ve never heard of a minister going to a committee to criticize the government.”
Kulanu declined to respond.
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Steinitz pressed back against accusations that he is beholden to the gas investors. He said that in 2011, as finance minister, he increased taxes on gas and oil revenue, and accused Delek CEO Yitzhak Tshuva of inciting against him at the time.
“As finance minister I made sure Israelis will get billions from the gas, and now I’m working on the other side of the same coin and have the privilege to make sure the gas comes out of the sea.”
“I had the same goal then as now: That most of the revenue go to the people of Israel. I think some people aren’t fighting for the good of the people of Israel, otherwise they would support the outline,” Steinitz said.
Steinitz expressed hope that next year the market will be open to foreign investors to begin searching for more gas fields.
When asked whether the constant changes in the proposed gas policy and the weekly protests against it frightened away investors, Steinitz said, yes, but that he thought the situation is improving.
“International corporations are willing to look for gas in Egypt and Cyprus but not in our territorial waters even though they have the same chance to find gas here...
Apparently, we gave them tough conditions,” Steinitz said, in light of opponents’ claims the proposed policy is too friendly to investors.
Steinitz cited what he called “a secret report by a European bank that was leaked to me,” which said that “even though Israel is an advanced hi-tech country and a member of the OECD, in gas and oil there is such a bad public atmosphere that Israel is more dangerous than third world countries for energy companies. Even African countries like Angola and Mozambique are a safer investment than Israel.”
Still, Steinitz said he “won’t accept a reality in which we have a bad name in the energy sector,” and cited his trip to the US to convince companies to come to Israel.
He pointed to a recent visit to Israel by the CEO of Italian energy giant Eni as proof that “international companies are interested in Israel again and saying maybe Israel will fix the market.”
Turning to other matters, Steinitz said he favors a unity coalition at this time, due to the wave of terrorism and regional instability, and said he believes the prime minister feels the same way.
The Likud minister took issue with the analysis that Bayit Yehudi and Zionist Union cannot partner in the same government, pointing out that they did so in 2009.
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