Dery Offers to Quit as Israel's Economy Minister to Move Gas Framework Forward

Economy minister not willing to use antitrust override authority himself but willing to let someone else do it.

Emil Salman

Economy Minister Arye Dery opened the way for the government to move forward with its controversial gas framework over the weekend, offering to step down from his post to clear the way to override the antitrust obstacle blocking its approval.

Confirming rumors he might step down, Dery said in an interview with Channel 2 television: “We’ve reach a crossroads. I am still looking for another way to transfer the authority of the economy minster in the realm of natural gas to the government. I told the prime minster in order not to stop approval of the framework I’m ready to leave the Economy Ministry.”

The news caused energy shares on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange to rise sharply on Sunday. Avner ended 2.5% higher at 2.64 shekels (68 cents), Delek Drilling gained 2.2% to 13.80 and Ratio advanced 3.5% to 30 agorot.

Together with recent statements by energy executives and a U.S. tour of energy companies by National Infrastructure Minster Yuval Steinetz, hopes are growing in the industry that the logjam over the framework is finally being broken.

Israel is working to persuade more U.S. energy companies to invest in its growing offshore fields, Steinitz told a conference in the United States last week, predicting that the framework would be in place soon.

“What’s left now in order to put it into action is just the signature of the minister of economy,” Steinitz told the Reuters Commodities Summit l. “I am confident that in the near future, until the end of this year, and hopefully in the next few weeks, this will be over and the framework will be finally in place.”

The gas framework, negotiated between the government and the two companies controlling the Tamar and Leviathan fields would set terms for the industry and allow development of the Leviathan field to begin. A key obstacle in getting the framework approved is overriding a ruling made last year by former antirust trust commission David Gilo.

Gilo and the framework’s other critics say it leaves too much power in the hands of the Tamar and Leviathan partners.

As economy minister, Dery has the authority to act under Section 52 of the Antitrust Law, but he has refused to do so unilaterally, instead seeking Knesset backing to exercise his authority or waiting for a new antitrust commissioner to be named.

Over the weekend, Dery still held out for Knesset approval, which would be difficult to win given the government’s slim one-seat majority and the decision of several ministers to recuse themselves from the vote.

“If a real effort is made to transfer the [antitrust] authority, I won’t leave the Economy Ministry,” he said. “I urge Avigdor Lieberman [Yisrael Beiteinu leader], Yair Lapid [Yesh Atid leader] and the Arab parties — and all those who support the gas framework — to help us transfer authority.”

Sources close to Dery said the minister had already made the offer to quit to Netanyahu. He voted for the framework in the cabinet and has instructed Shas Knesset members to back it too.

Dery reminded viewers that being economy minister had not been his first choice when the government was formed last spring, but that over time he had grown to like it. Nevertheless, Knesset sources said he was unhappy with it because it offered him few opportunities to serve his constituency — poorer, religious Mizrahi (Jews of Middle Eastern origin) voters – and had been put him in the awkward position of being the leader of an ultra-Orthodox party who issues permits to work on the Sabbath.

With reporting by Reuters.