Melchior: This is chance to right the country’s social ills

Former MK founds new forum to fight for reallocation of state’s share in revenues from natural gas finds

By EHUD ZION WALDOKS
August 4, 2010 04:05
2 minute read.
Rabbi Michael Melchior.

Rabbi Michael Melchior.. (photo credit: courtesy)

Once again, Israel stands at a historically significant crossroads with a real chance of improving the well-being of its citizens, activist and former MK Rabbi Michael Melchior told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday.

No, he’s not talking about proximity or direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians. Melchior’s talking about the revenues from the recent natural gas finds off the country’s coast.

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Over the past few weeks, Melchior and his partners have launched the Civil Action Forum to fight for the proper allocation of revenues from those finds. According to the former Meimad MK, the current setup does not bring in nearly enough revenue to the state. Instead, the private companies get the lion’s share of the revenues, even though the natural gas fields are considered part of the state’s natural resources and the companies must receive licenses to drill.

The allocation is based on an antiquated 1952 law that divvies up the revenue, Melchior said. The state receives only 24 percent, while the companies receive the rest. According to the forum’s research, other countries take anywhere from 40% to 80% of the revenues from the fields. Israel needs to change that law to bring in massive revenue from the gas fields, he declared.

This opportunity has come up once before, Melchior said, when in 2002 the Knesset wanted to pass a law reallocating revenues 60/40, with the government getting the larger portion. However, the energy companies’ lawyers and lobbyists torpedoed that effort. Now, with the Tamar, Dalit and Leviathan finds off of Haifa, and US Geological Survey assessments that an even bigger find is still out there, Melchior believes the time has come for the public to fight against the greed of the energy companies. The Civil Action Forum suggests an 80/20 revenue share, contending that even 20% is a very respectable return on investment for the private companies.

The second part of Melchior’s and the forum’s vision is how to use those funds. The amounts of money being discussed are astronomical – some say as much as $300 billion.

“Now is the time to ensure that the money which will come in to the state and its citizens is used as a historical social about-face to bring justice to all of the country’s citizens,” he told the Post.

Now, the country has potentially lucrative natural resources.

Melchior, who is also the chief rabbi of Norway, suggested borrowing from that country’s model.

“In 1988, the country established a national fund with the revenues from oil and gas finds. That fund has reached $460b., and only the interest is used to fund all of the social programs for quality of life and closing the socioeconomic gaps,” he said.

The Civil Action Forum has set up a Web site at www.israelrestart.com with position papers, tables, graphs and statistics.


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