Netanyahu decides not to bring natural gas plan to the Knesset

Deri's refusal to circumvent Antitrust Commissioner's refusal to sign off on gas deal is likely to leave the deal unauthorized for months.

Israel's natural gas (photo credit: MINISTRY OF NATIONAL INFRASTRUCTURES)
Israel's natural gas
The government’s natural gas deal will not be brought to the Knesset for a vote, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided Monday.
The prime minister’s decision was made after Economy Minister Arye Deri clarified that he will not waver from his opposition to being the first person to ever sign Article 52 of the Antitrust Law, which would circumvent the antitrust commissioner’s objections if there were national security or foreign policy concerns.
MK Shelly Yacimovich (Zionist Union), one of the gas deal’s most outspoken opponents, said Netanyahu made the right decision in not bringing it to a parliamentary vote.
“Now that the central security/diplomatic claim – relations with Egypt – is not relevant, and the map of natural resources in the region has changed significantly, including expected prices, the plan should be shelved immediately,” she said.
According to Yacimovich, it is no longer urgent to make a decision, because the Tamar gas field is already supplying Israel with gas and has enough to export to Jordan and the Palestinian Authority for the next 15 years.
In June, Deri asked to transfer the authority to sign Article 52 to the whole government, but the move was unable to get a majority in the Knesset and the coalition withdrew its bid to vote on it.
Then Deri said he would sign Article 52 if the Knesset approved the gas outline, even though there is no legal reason for the legislature to do so, as the deal is not a bill. The coalition was expected to get a majority despite the refusal by Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, Construction Minister Yoav Galant and Welfare Minister Haim Katz’s to vote for the plan because of financial conflicts of interest, because Yisrael Beytenu said it would vote in favor.
However, last week Deri announced in a briefing to the Knesset Correspondents’ Association that he does not plan to sign Article 52, rather, he would wait until there is a new antitrust commissioner and allow him or her to approve the gas plan.
“I’m still not signing Article 52... I think that if we waited so much time already [to approve a plan, since gas was first found in 2010], and there will be a new antitrust commissioner soon, we can wait more,” he said. “I want the new commissioner to sign off on it.”
The committee that will choose the next antitrust commissioner has not yet been appointed, but the selection of a new commissioner is expected in the next month.
Antitrust Authority Legal Adviser Uri Schwartz, whom Deri appointed to fill Antitrust Commissioner David Gilo’s position temporarily while he seeks a permanent replacement, has said in closed discussions that he does not intend to advance the gas outline during the transition period.
For a new antitrust commissioner to approve the outline, he or she would have to review the document thoroughly, conduct public hearings that could last for months and then submit his or her consent decree to the Antitrust Tribunal for a final decision.
A source in the energy sector said that if Deri refused to sign Article 52, it could take a year to a year and a half for a new antitrust commissioner to approve the deal and for it to go into effect.
Gilo threatened last year to declare the gas plan a “restrictive agreement” because of Delek Group’s and Noble Energy’s market dominance. Nearly eight months of negotiations between the gas companies and government officials ensued, resulting in a compromise outline. Gilo submitted his resignation four months ago, but it only takes effect on Tuesday.
The latest version of the compromise outline, which the cabinet approved on August 15, focuses on pricing, the development of the Leviathan reservoir and ensuring stability – in addition to previously agreed-upon points regarding the Tamar reservoir, several smaller basins, exports and other issues.
Sharon Udasin contributed to this report.