Netanyahu backs gas deal before High Court

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made an unprecedented personal appearance before Israel’s High Court of Justice on Feb. 14 to defend his maneuvers in support of deepwater natural gas development.

In a controversial move last year, Netanyahu assumed the role of economy minister to sidestep the antitrust commissioner, who opposed an agreement allowing development of giant Leviathan gas field and expansion of nearby Tamar field (OGJ Online, Dec. 17, 2015). The commissioner resigned. His replacement hasn’t supported the agreement, known in Israel as the gas outline, which the Cabinet approved last August. Among other things, the outline requires adjustment of license interests.

Article 52 of Israel’s Restrictive Trade Practice Law of 1988 allows the economy minister to override antitrust objections when security or foreign policy interests are at stake. It previously hadn’t been invoked.

Before the High Court, the prime minister said “our ability to realize the potential of the state of Israel’s gas” was at stake. Further delay to long-delayed development, he said, “could lead to grave results, and it is doubtful if we could recover from them.”

Shelly Yacimovich, a member of the Knesset from the opposition Zionist Union party, said Netanyahu’s appearance “was empty of any truthful substance,” according to press reports.

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