Israel set to regulate seas’ legal status

“Recently, we were blessed with natural resources, but we were unfortunately also blessed with very laborious regulation.”

An Israeli gas platform is seen in the Mediterranean Sea, 2014 (photo credit: REUTERS)
An Israeli gas platform is seen in the Mediterranean Sea, 2014
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Israel may finally be on the verge of organizing a marine landscape that has for decades been plagued by regulatory pandemonium.
With the prospects of continued natural gas development brewing, the Ministerial Committee on Regulatory Affairs approved the principles of a forthcoming bill that would be applied to the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of Israel’s Mediterranean Sea. The legislation, according to the Prime Minister’s Office, aims to give investors and foreign companies certainty regarding the regulations they face when they enter Israel’s economic waters.
“Recently, we were blessed with natural resources, but we were unfortunately also blessed with very laborious regulation,” said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who chairs the ministerial committee.
“Regulatory disputes are hindering the development of the gas fields, which are a central and even strategic interest for Israel, and therefore, this ministerial committee was designed to remove these disputes and enable the accelerated development of the fields.”
To this day, unlike most other countries in the world, Israel has failed to fully clarify the legal circumstances that apply to its EEZ – the marine area between 12 and 200 nautical miles from Israel’s coast, just beyond the country’s territorial waters.
Although currently frozen, a 2013 government bill – the Marine Areas Law – proposed establishing a legal framework for activities conducted in Israel’s Mediterranean, including in its EEZ. Among other things, the bill aimed to officially define Israel’s territorial waters as well as its EEZ. The legislation also intended to define the powers of enforcement of various relevant authorities and to apply Israel’s environmental protection laws to maritime areas.
The current situation has created significant uncertainty as to which Israeli laws are applicable to the EEZ, in areas such as policing, labor laws, antitrust issues, import and export, immigration, taxation and health, a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office said.
Likewise, activists have long been concerned about the unclear environmental policies in this region, particularly as marine infrastructure, such as natural gas rigs and desalination plants, continues to crop up in the Mediterranean.
During Monday’s meeting, the Prime Minister’s Office said that the committee members resolved a recent dispute regarding the deep-sea environmental and licensing aspects of the forthcoming bill.
In addition, the committee stressed that the plans would lead to more secure and efficient regulations, thereby encouraging investments.
The decision will be submitted for the approval of the Ministerial Committee for Legislation, and then brought to the Knesset for a vote, the Prime Minister’s Office said.
Ahead of Monday’s Ministerial Committee for Regulatory Affairs meeting, however, Adam Teva V’Din (Israel Union for Environmental Defense) expressed significant concerns about specific elements of the bill.
Amit Bracha, executive director of the organization, argued in a letter to committee members that the bill would “neutralize” the Environmental Protection Ministry’s ability to safeguard the marine environment, as the ministry would have supervisory status only. In addition, he also faulted the bill for failing to apply the country’s Planning and Building Law to the EEZ.
The bill, Bracha added, also includes a long “waiting period,” during which there are no checks and balances on Energy Ministry decisions, and lacks an integrated management mechanism for the maritime space.
“It is clear that there is no room for advancing such a significant and complex bill with far-reaching implications, especially during the [Knesset] recess period,” Bracha said.