State agrees to interim court order against gas export policy

Yacimovich: State recognizes this is a crucial decision that cannot be made behind closed doors.

The Tamar gas processing rig off the coast of Israel 370 (photo credit: Noble Energy)
The Tamar gas processing rig off the coast of Israel 370
(photo credit: Noble Energy)
The state on Monday agreed to the handing down of an interim order against its gas export policy by the High Court of Justice, freezing the policy until the court rules whether the Knesset and not just the government should decide how much natural gas Israel should export.
It also requested that the court expedite a decision on the issue so that the developers can begin to extract the gas and the country can start to benefit from the resource.
The court also ordered that the panel of justices for the case would be broadened from the standard three and stated there would be another hearing soon, though not setting the date.
Last Thursday, the High Court surprised the state with a suggestion to leapfrog over some of the normal procedures 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.
While the state often tries to fight even the granting of an interim order against a policy, which shifts the burden to the state to defend its law, it quickly buckled when the court hinted it would issue an interim order anyway to move toward getting a final court decision to uphold or strike the policy.
The issue is rooted in a June 23 cabinet decision to maintain 540 billion cubic meters of natural gas at home – thereby limiting exports to 40 percent of the country’s estimated reserves.
The decision caused an immediate public outcry and opposition politicians, including Labor Party chairwoman Shelly Yacimovich, petitioned the High Court against the government’s action. MKs that signed the petition also included Economic Affairs Committee chairman Avishay Braverman (Labor), MK Moshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism) and MK Reuven Rivlin (Likud Beytenu).
Following Monday’s decision, Yacimovich said she was pleased with the government’s consenting to the expanded High Court discussion on the issue.
“The government’s agreement to an expanded discussion demonstrates an understanding, even if late, that this subject is too significant and critical to be behind closed doors without public discussion,” Yacimovich said. “It would be good if the prime minister would decide already now to bring the issue to the Knesset for an in-depth public discussion.”
Members of the movement the Preservation of Israeli Gas, who were also signatories on Yacimovich’s petition, likewise praised the government’s understanding of the need to explore this issue in an “intensive but expedited” manner.
Among the NGO participants in the movement are the Israel Energy Forum, Yisrael Yekara Lanu, the Institute for Economic Planning, Green Course, the Center for Law and Business in Ramat Gan and Zalul.
“We hope that the discussion on the subject will be exhausted in the best and fastest fashion, in anticipation that the High Court justices will order that the decision on exporting natural gas be transferred to organized legislation in the Knesset, which is proper for a historic decision with enormous intergenerational implications,” a statement from the movement said.
Also pleased with the state’s agreement, representatives of Adam Teva V’Din (Israel Union for Environmental Defense) called upon the prime minister to take the consent one step further to bring the discussion to the Knesset.
Adam Teva V’Din, alongside the Movement for Quality Government, had filed a petition to the High Court similar to Yacimovich’s, stressing that the strategic implications of the country’s natural gas future require a decision on its export to occur within the country’s legislative body.
Dana Tabachnik, head of the economics and natural resources division of Adam Teva V’Din, explained that now “the burden of proof” is on the state, to defend the government’s decision to bypass a transparent discussion on the subject in the Knesset.
“Even the state agrees that the issue is complex and requires a more intensive consideration,” said Amit Bracha, executive director of Adam Teva V’Din.
“The prime minister must spare [the country] from a legal process that is going on and becoming lengthier and transfer already now the decision on gas export to the Knesset – any other move from his part would not be in keeping with the principle of the rule of law.”