Star-studded Hearings on Israel Gas Framework Begin Next Week

Who's who of Israeli government being called, but Knesset committee can't block the agreement, only advise.

Daniel Bar-On

A star-studded lineup, headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, will appear before the Knesset Economic Affairs Committee when it begins hearings on the controversial natural-gas framework agreement early next week.

The hearing is mandatory before Netanyahu, who earlier this month took over the post of economy minister, can exercise his power to waive antitrust provisions and let the gas cartel led by Delek Group and America’s Noble Energy keep most of its gas holdings.

The hearings promise to be lively. A host of top officials have been invited, such as Bank of Israel Governor Karnit Flug, National Infrastructure, Energy and Water Minister Yuval Steinitz, Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot and the heads of the Mossad and the Shin Bet security service.

But Eitan Cabel, the committee’s chairman and a member of the opposition Zionist Union party, has also invited figures who are vociferously opposed to the deal, including Prof. Yaron Zelekha and geologist Joseph Langotsky. The heads of Delek and Noble are also being called to speak.

The framework sets terms for governing the gas industry, calling among other things for Delek to sell its stake in the Tamar gas field and for Noble to reduce its stake as well as selling two smaller reserves.

Critics, including the organizers of demonstrations around the country on to protest the deal, say it doesn’t do enough to ensure low prices and competition and that it makes the cartel too powerful, but the energy companies say they won’t continue developing the much larger Leviathan field until they have a clear regulatory environment.

The economics committee hearing will run daily from 10 A.M. to 2 P.M. through December 10, at which point Cabel is likely to call for a vote on the wording of a recommendation.

Netanyahu, however, is not obligated to consider the recommendations before he moves ahead to override the ruling issued last year by then-Antitrust Commissioner David Gilo, saying the cartel violated the law.