Israeli Government Delays Vote on Power Reform, Talks About Cows Instead

Ministers realize that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu didn't want to assume responsibility for the measure in the absence of Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon

From right to left: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz, Energy and Water Resources Minister Yuval Steinitz and Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan at a government meeting on May 27, 2018.
קובי גדעון / לע"מ

Ministers arriving for the cabinet meeting on Sunday were surprised to learn from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that the vote on the controversial reform of the electricity sector would be delayed.

The official reason for the day was that Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon would be absent from the meeting due to the death of his mother.

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However, the news of her death had been known the night before and none of the relevant officials were informed before the meeting about the day. In any event, it was believed that the plan would have won cabinet approval even in his absence.

There was already a hint of the delay when ministers entered what was supposed to be a five-minute, perfunctory discussion on International Dairy Day, during which the ministers were supposed to sample a few cheeses and praise the Israeli dairy industry.

Instead, it turned into a long discussion about the industry and gradually the ministers realized that Netanyahu didn’t want to move on to the next item on the agenda, which was electricity reform, because it would mean assuming too much responsibility for the controversial measure.

The delay will give Habayit Hayehudi head Naftali Bennett and two lieutenants another week to iron out divisions in the party over the reform.

The reform plan, which was reached between the government, state-owned Israel Electric Corporation and labor union, would reduce IEC’s control over electricity generation and cut some 1,800 staff from its payroll. In return, workers and the utility would get some 7 billion shekels ($1.96 billion) in compensation by the government’s not lowering electricity rates for the next eight years.

The fact that the public will be bearing the cost of the reforms has become a source of controversy.

Opposition to the reform inside Habayit Hayehudi began with Bezalel Smotrich and has grown in recent days. At the faction’s last meeting, Bennett made it clear he had no unequivocal position on the reform and had not yet decided whether to vote for it.

Even if the cabinet does approve the reforms, it faces considerable opposition in the Knesset. “There were a lot of concessions [by the government] in preparing the reforms,” MK Uri Maklev (United Torah Judaism) told TheMarker last week.

He said the government should have used the threat of appealing to the High Court of Justice on a motion barring IEC workers from having the right to strike over reforms to gain more concessions from labor unions in the reform negotiations.