Cabinet chaos looming over crucial gas deal
THE ISRAELI prime minister is set to finalise a controversial new gas deal — but only if a cabinet colleague resigns.
Benjamin Netanyahu has been trying to push through a law that permits an Israeli-American energy partnership to develop offshore natural gas fields in the face of anti-monopoly laws that would normally block such an arrangement.
Anti-trust commissioner David Gilo resigned earlier this year after the government refused to accept his ruling that the proposed deal did not ensure sufficient competition in the energy market.
This week, Economics Minister and Shas leader, Arye Deri, told Mr Netanyahu he was prepared to resign and transfer his powers to the prime minister, a move that would not only allow Mr Netanyahu to overrule Mr Gilo’s decision, which still stands, but also avoid putting the issue to a Knesset vote, which he could lose.
Mr Gilo had recommended that the partnership of the Tshuva Group and Nobel Energy be forced to relinquish ownership of one of the largest two offshore natural gas fields.
Instead, the government has been pushing a more gradual plan under which Tshuva-Nobel can retain ownership of the fields for seven more years.
However, some ministers, who cite conflict of interest, have been refusing to vote in favour of the deal. This means that the prime minister is not guaranteed a Knesset majority.
Although Mr Deri backs the deal, he has refused to use his ministerial powers to override the commissioner’s objections. If he resigns, his powers will revert to the prime minister, who could then push the framework through without need for a Knesset vote.
The main obstacle remaining is Mr Deri’s terms. He would like to swap ministries with Interior Minister Silvan Shalom, who has so far refused to do so. Another option would be creating a new ministry for Mr Deri with powers taken from other ministers, all of whom are expected to strenuously object.