Scuttled Israel gas deal frustrates US, Israeli developers

The Associated Press

Israeli and American energy companies expressed disappointment over Israel's Supreme Court decision that struck down a government deal that would have given them the rights to begin pumping natural gas from offshore deposits.

An activist wears a mask bearing a portrait of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a protest against a natural gas deal signed in December, 2015 with U.S. and Israeli developers for drilling offshore gas deposits, in front of the Supreme Court in Jerusalem. Israel's Supreme Court has ruled against the governments framework deal for its natural gas reserves granting a year for issues to be worked out on Sunday, March 27, 2016. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit, File)

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israeli and American energy companies expressed disappointment on Monday over Israel's Supreme Court decision that struck down a government deal that would have given them the rights to begin pumping natural gas from offshore deposits.

David Stover, the chairman of Houston-based Noble Energy, said the ruling was "disappointing."

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had emphatically supported the deal struck between his government and a consortium of oil and gas developers as a path to Israeli energy independence, new regional alliances and billions of dollars in revenue. Critics said the deal gave too much profit to corporations at the public's expense.

The court opposed a clause that would prevent Israel from making significant regulatory changes for the next ten years.

The gas deal was a centerpiece of Netanyahu's economic policy, and he made an unprecedented appearance in the Supreme Court to lobby for its approval.

After the court scuttled the deal, Netanyahu resolved to "seek other ways to overcome the severe damage that this curious decision has caused the Israeli economy."

Eli Groner, director-general of Netanyahu's office, warned on Army Radio that "we are telling the world that Israel is a place where it is difficult to do business."

Thousands of Israelis have turned out for weekly protests against the gas deal.

On Monday, opposition lawmaker Shelly Yachimovich, a leading critic of Israel's deal with the gas companies, called the court decision "historic and dramatic," and proof that "a smart, aware public can cause justice to prevail."

The Israeli Delek Group called Monday on the government to rework the agreement quickly. In a conference call with investors, a Delek representative said "we don't intent to put things on hold."

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