Arye Dery Vacates Economy Ministry for Netanyahu

Dery’s resignation paves the way for Netanyahu to push through approval of a controversial natural-gas deal. Dery had refused to bypass the antitrust commissioner over the agreement.

Emil Salman

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may offer Arye Dery, who resigned yesterday as economy minister, a bolstered social affairs portfolio that will include the Social Affairs Ministry and responsibility for the National Insurance Institute.

Netanyahu is scheduled to meet with Social Affairs Minister Haim Katz today to discuss the matter. One option is for Katz to replace Dery as economy minister, according to political sources who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Dery’s resignation paves the way for Netanyahu to push through approval of a controversial natural-gas deal. Dery had refused to bypass the antitrust commissioner over the agreement.

Netanyahu assumed the Economy Ministry portfolio yesterday. He is expected appoint a new antitrust commissioner and to ask the Knesset to remove the framework from the commissioner’s jurisdiction, thus securing its passage into law.

Dery has retained responsibility for the Negev and Galilee Development Ministry, which as Netanyahu told the cabinet yesterday will be renamed the Negev, Galilee and Periphery Development Ministry. It is to receive an additional allocation of 300 million shekels ($77.6 million), out of the Economy Ministry’s budget. It isn’t clear what projects to advance outlying areas will be funded with that money.

Dery said he was leaving the Economy Ministry “with sorrow, but the reason is there was no way found to get the gas framework going. ... I was left with no choice but to resign, because the state needs to launch the gas framework. The framework, which I worked to improve, is the lesser evil and the state needs the billions of shekels it will make from the gas.”

To get Habayit Hayehudi’s support for the deal to expand Dery’s other powers, the cabinet approved the formation of a committee to look into transferring responsibility for day care centers from the Economy Ministry to the Education Ministry. The panel will be headed by Prime Minister’s Office Director General Eli Groner and is to submit its conclusions within 45 days.

Habayit Hayehudi, headed by Education Minister Naftali Bennett, had threatened to vote against increasing Dery’s other responsibilities because he was meant to be made in charge of informal education in disadvantaged neighborhoods, a field currently under Bennett’s purview. In the end it was agreed that none of the Education Ministry’s responsibilities would be given to Dery.

During yesterday’s cabinet meeting, Netanyahu described the natural gas reserves off the Israeli coast as “the number one growth engine in Israel in the coming years. We are talking about an investment of very many billions of dollars already over the next two years and the creation of related industries, which will provide many jobs for the citizens of Israel. The gas supply will help lower energy costs and the cost of living. It also gives energy independence to Israel,” Netanyahu said.

Continuing, he said, “The arguments that led us to this point remind me of the debate that once surrounded Highway #6. There were heated arguments about Highway #6, and today no one understands how the state ever managed without Highway #6, and it really did not manage. The same will happen with the gas outline. I think that within one, two or three years, everyone will understand that it was a necessary step.”

MK Eitan Cabel (Zionist Union), who heads the Knesset Economic Affairs Committee, said he would ask Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein to either block Netanyahu’s deal with Dery or to launch a criminal investigation into the move. He also threatened to petition the High Court of Justice if Weinstein didn’t take action.

“The agreement between Netanyahu and Dery is not a stinking maneuver, but bribery between election officials,” Cabel said. “Dery is giving the prime minister the economy portfolio and the option of invoking Section 52 of the Antitrust Law to approve the gas framework in exchange for budgets.”

MK Shelly Yacimovich (Zionist Union) thought the deal was indeed, “A stinking maneuver and a dubious and irrational move. I’m sure the day will come when all the corrupt aspects of this natural gas deal will burst to the fore. The gas framework is so far-fetched, so unreasonable, so wrong and harmful and constitutes (another) wild benefits package for the gas companies that it’s clear something is rotten here. It would behoove all those supporting it ... to prepare their alibis now because it won’t be long before they’ll have to account for their actions.”

Independent business owners also threatened to petition the High Court if no full-time economy minister is appointed. “There are too many critical issues on the economic agenda that require a minister to be dealing with them day and night,” said Roey Cohen, the president of Lahav, the umbrella organization for independent businesspeople.