The government has decided to reconsider an agreement to transport oil from the Gulf states to Europe via Israel.
On instructions from Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, officials in the Prime Minister’s Office and the foreign, finance, energy, justice and environmental protection ministries are slated to hold their first meeting on the issue in the coming weeks. That will be followed by a meeting of the relevant ministers to formulate the government’s position on the issue.
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This week, Energy Minister Karine Elharrar admitted in a closed conversation that ministry staffers think the agreement, signed by the Europe Asia Pipeline Company, provides no benefits to Israelis.
“Our position at the Energy Ministry is that we don’t see any energy benefits to the Israeli economy in this agreement,” she was quoted as saying at a meeting with environmental organizations. “If it’s canceled, we don’t see any harm to this field.”
Nevertheless, she told them, the new government hasn’t yet formulated its position on the issue.
At the meeting, Elharrar admitted that she “doesn’t even know what’s written in the agreement, certainly not in its commercial section. ... I personally don’t see any benefit to Israel in the agreement, but we have to examine it from a comprehensive perspective.
“The Energy Ministry, if asked, will give its view at length, but this [issue] requires the opinions of all the ministries, and the people who will integrate them are the prime minister and the alternate prime minister,” she added, referring to Bennett and Lapid, who is slated to become prime minister in two years.
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“The agreement was signed by the previous government,” Elharrar continued. “EAPC, whether I like it or not, isn’t a company under the Energy Ministry’s authority.”
Bennett and Lapid decided to reconsider the agreement after Environmental Protection Minister Tamar Zandberg announced that she opposes it. Her ministry prepared documents showing that transporting the oil via Israel creates serious environmental risks, and she therefore asked that the government consider whether the agreement’s benefits outweigh these risks.
In May, three environmental organizations asked the High Court of Justice to rule that the agreement was invalid because the cabinet never approved it. The petitioners were the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, Adam Teva V’Din and Zalul Environmental Association.
The organizations also argued that the cabinet shouldn’t make a decision without listening to opinions from experts and the public. It said that not only did EAPC sign the agreement without involving the cabinet or any of the relevant ministries, but it did so in defiance of the views of experts from both the civil service and academia.
The state was supposed to submit its response to the court this week, but requested a delay of three and a half months so the new government could consider the issue.
Aside from the fact that the agreement may cause irreversible damage to coral reefs in the Gulf of Eilat, the petition charged, it might well deal a mortal blow to tourism in Eilat, and consequently to the town’s economy, turning it from a flourishing tourism city into an impoverished, unemployment-stricken one. Residents may also suffer from increased health problems, the petition said.
“A single leak of just one percent of the contents of one tanker would be enough to cause irreversible damage,” it warned.
Elharrar’s office said in a statement that “in a closed conversation with representatives of environmental organizations, the energy minister said that she and her ministry aren’t familiar with the details of the EAPC agreement, but that based on information reported in the media, she doesn’t view it as having any benefit to the Energy Ministry or to Israel’s energy economy. We regret that the contents of the conversation were leaked, but the minister stands behind what she said.”