Israeli Cabinet Approves Controversial Natural Gas Deal

Environmental Protection Minister Avi Gabbay voted against the proposed deal, while three other ministers recused themselves due to conflict of interests.

The revised natural gas framework agreement won cabinet backing on Sunday, with 17 ministers voting in favor against a lone no vote from Environmental Protection Minister Avi Gabbay. 

Economy Minister Arye Dery voted in favor but declined to say whether he would use his power to override the antitrust commissioner’s decision to declare the gas firms a cartel. Three ministers – Moshe Kahlon, Yoav Galant and Haim Katz – recused themselves due to conflicts of interests.

Gabbay said he would oppose the framework so long as it contained what he termed “a real change in the matter of energy security” but didn’t elaborate.

“This is a historic decision, nothing less, that will give Israel’s citizens and the government hundreds of billions of shekels that will go to improving education, health, social welfare and other national needs,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said during the meeting, who called for a wide majority.

But one observer at the meeting said the prime minister’s comments and the lopsided vote belied doubts about the framework. 

“The professional staff understands that the framework is faulty. You saw it in their body language and in the answers they gave. Even Netanyahu and Steinitz aren’t convinced. They don’t look like people who think they’ve done the right thing. There wasn’t even a real debate because everyone knew it would be approved,” said the source, who asked not to be identified.

The vote came days after government negotiators came to terms with the companies that control Israel’s offshore natural gas fields, led by Israel’s Delek Group and the Texas company Noble Energy. The framework has been subject to huge controversy, with critics saying it does too little to break Delek and Noble’s control over gas market and ensure low prices for users.