Netanyahu Postpones Vote on Gas Regulation After Failing to Secure Knesset Majority

Earlier, coalition announced that vote on whether to exempt gas industry from antitrust scrutiny would be regarded as a motion of confidence in the government.

Jonathan Lis
Zvi Zrahiya
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Knesset, June 29, 2015.Credit: Emil Salman
Jonathan Lis
Zvi Zrahiya

The Knesset vote on a cabinet decision to exempt the gas industry from antitrust scrutiny, for national security reasons, was postponed late Monday night after a day of political maneuvering.

Earlier, the coalition announced that the vote would be regarded as a motion of confidence in the government, meaning that ministers who recused themselves from the vote due to conflicts of interest will be required to vote for the motion, most likely giving it a Knesset majority.

The Knesset vote could be postponed by several weeks, until publication of the final, legal version of the proposed bill. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday that the agreement with the gas monopoly was not a secret and would be published by National Infrastructure, Energy and Water Minister Yuval Steinitz.

The coalition is counting on enlisting the support of opposition parties, including Yisrael Beiteinu, after the framework agreement is published. Yisrael Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Lieberman announced on Monday that his faction would vote against the gas proposal, even though he personally is in favor of the deal with the gas companies.

“We will not be the coalition’s babysitter,” Lieberman said, adding: “If the prime minister doesn’t know how to get the ministers [] or order the finance minister to sign, he should reach conclusions and resign.”

Netanyahu told the Likud faction meeting Monday that the gas framework was “a good, responsible, monopoly-breaking framework that will fill the state coffers hundreds of billions [of shekels] for education, welfare, health and other needs.”

The government has been at odds with the energy companies and within its own ranks about how to ensure competition in an industry where Delek and Noble Energy control nearly all of Israel’s energy reserves.

Antitrust Commissioner David Gilo sparked the debate last December, after declining to proceed with an earlier version of a proposed agreement that would have allowed the two companies to retain most of their holdings. He later resigned his position in response to the government’s refusal to crack down on the gas monopoly.

On Sunday, the full cabinet voted to relieve Economy Minister Arye Dery of his legal power to exempt a monopoly from complying with the Restrictive Trade Practices Law.