High Court presses state to explain why cabinet, not Knesset, decided how much gas to export

The decision caused public outcry as opposition politicians petitioned High Court against government’s action.

Offshore Gas Drilling 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
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 action.
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).
“Despite the 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 petition reads.
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 policy.
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.
The 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 decisionmaking process.
Immediately following the Thursday morning decision, Yacimovich expressed satisfaction with the results and praised the justices for “recognizing the great importance of the issue.”
“[The High 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 the Knesset.
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 heads.
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 Knesset.
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.
“Missing 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 far.”
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.