Knesset committees compete to prepare gas revenue bill

Rivlin, Netanyahu try to resolve whether the bill should be prepared in the Finance Committee or in the Economic Affairs Committee.

Offshore Gas Drilling 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Offshore Gas Drilling 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The Sheshinski Committee’s recommendations to raise oil and gas royalties may have passed their first Knesset reading this week, but within Likud, tensions continue to rise regarding the bill being pushed forward by Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
Although Netanyahu and Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin reportedly reached agreement on which committee should prepare the legislation for its final readings, Economic Affairs Committee chairman Carmel Shama-Hacohen, Likud MK, blasted the announcement, and denied that any such decision had been made.
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According to Rivlin, he and Netanyahu spoke on Wednesday to try to resolve whether the bill should be prepared in the Finance Committee or in the Economic Affairs Committee before the question is put before the House Committee next week.
The two men agreed that the question of the state’s revenues from Israel’s gas resources should be discussed in the Finance Committee, an opinion supported by Knesset Legal Adviser Eyal Inon.
Inon explained his ruling on the subject by arguing that the legislation concerns a “fiscal system that will be enforced upon the natural gas sector,” rather than “regularizing the field of gas and oil speculation as a whole,” and thus belongs in the committee whose mandate includes taxation.
The Sheshinski Committee recommended that taxation of income from Israel’s newly discovered natural gas resources be increased to more closely resemble the rates in other Western states.
Netanyahu and Rivlin also concluded that that opinion would be the official position of the coalition during next week’s House Committee vote.
Rivlin had opposed earlier proposals to divide the hearings on the law, arguing that “it is not appropriate for two committees to hold hearings on an identical subject, while inconveniencing all of the relevant bodies to attend separate hearings on the same subjects. It could lead to a situation in which the Knesset reaches two different – and even opposing – decisions.”
Such an outcome, he warned, could weaken the force of decisions made in the Knesset.
But Shama-Hacohen remained obstinate regarding his committee’s jurisdiction over the legislation, and responded to Rivlin’s announcement with open disdain.
“The prime minister does not interfere in internal Knesset matters,” he said.
“The Knesset Speaker, who caused this complication because of his unexplainable change in positions, has no idea what he is talking about, because nothing has yet been determined, and in any case, he is outside of the decision-making process on this topic,” Shama-Hacohen said. “I would recommend the Speaker concentrate more on the content of notes that he passes to opposition members in which he criticizes the prime minister.”
The bill’s fate in the Finance Committee is uncertain – although opposition parties including Labor and Meretz are strong supporters of the legislation, individual coalition MKs as well as members of Israel Beiteinu are less enthusiastic, and are likely to seek major changes.