PM defiant as MKs bite back over controversial gas deal
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PM defiant as MKs bite back over controversial gas deal

Netanyahu vows to push through agreement, says political agenda caused economics panel to reject monopoly-busting clause

File: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a Knesset committee meeting on the controversial natural gas deal, December 8, 2015. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
File: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a Knesset committee meeting on the controversial natural gas deal, December 8, 2015. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed Monday to press ahead with a controversial deal on Israel’s newly found gas fields in the Mediterranean, after a Knesset committee voted to reject an antitrust clause in the agreement that would hand over control of the fields to a sole partnership of two corporations.

Netanyahu blamed political considerations for the 7-6 vote in the Economic Affairs Committee, which is headed by senior Zionist Union MK Eitan Cabel.

The prime minister told a meeting of his Likud party’s faction in Jerusalem that the proposed deal — which grants Israel’s Delek Group and the American Noble Energy the sole rights to develop the substantial gas fields — was “good for Israel” and essential for energy security.

Without the plan, Netanyahu said the fields would not be developed, thereby requiring additional drilling platforms at existing sites and leaving the country more vulnerable to attacks. The platforms “pose a risk as targets for missile strikes,” he said.

Illustrative photo of a natural gas field in the Mediterranean Sea (Moshe Shai/FLASH90)
Illustrative photo of a natural gas field in the Mediterranean Sea (Moshe Shai/Flash90)

In addition to security considerations, Netanyahu said the new gas deal would provide additional revenue for the government’s health, security and educational initiatives.

“For these two reasons, the deal is the right thing,” he said, claiming that “all professionals in the field” supported the proposal.

The Economic Affairs Committee’s symbolic gesture of opposition came in the form of the rejection of Clause 52 of the Restrictive Trade Practices (antitrust) Law, which allows the economy minister to bypass the Antitrust Authority if security or foreign policy considerations justify it. Netanyahu, who is serving as economy minister, invoked the clause on security grounds, saying that natural gas extraction lightens the load on Israel’s existing power plants, which were targeted by missiles during last summer’s war with Hamas. He also claimed that the gas revenues would offset the costs of a possible boycott of Israeli goods.

Netanyahu, who has spent the past year performing political cartwheels to override Knesset and public opposition to the agreement, vowed to push the agreement forward into law.

“Unfortunately, political chatter against the deal continues, because it is a government initiative,” he said. “This will not deter us.”

In May, Antitrust Authority Commissioner David Gilo resigned, claiming that the partnership between Noble and Delek, the latter led by billionaire Yitzhak Tshuva, constituted monopoly control of a key natural resource that would lead to high prices for Israeli consumers.

Last month, Shas leader Aryeh Deri resigned as economy minister rather than approve the clause, paving the way for Netanyahu to take over the portfolio.

Netanyahu informed Cabel that he wanted to consult with the Economic Affairs Committee before invoking the controversial clause for the first time in the country’s history. Last week, he tried to persuade committee members that geopolitical considerations demanded implementation of the deal.

Thousands of people have taken to the streets in recent weeks to campaign against the outline agreement, in the biggest demonstrations since the 2011 social justice protests. Protesters have accused the government of “stealing” the largest natural resource ever found in the country and handing it over to a monopoly of businessmen.

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