Finance C’tee Head Gafni Comes Out Against Natural Gas Monopoly

Contentious issue will be on the committee’s agenda Wednesday, at its first meeting since the new government was formed.

MK Moshe Gafni at a meeting of the Knesset's Finance Committee, August 12, 2014.
Michal Fattal

Moshe Gafni, who was chosen on Tuesday to head the Knesset Finance Committee, told TheMarker he supports the dissolution of the monopoly over Israel’s natural-gas sector by the developers of the Tamar and Leviathan offshore fields.

The United Torah Judaism lawmaker, who was chairman of the Knesset Finance Committee from 2009-13, said the market should either be opened up or be subject to price controls.

The natural-gas issue will be on the committee’s agenda Wednesday, at its first meeting since the government was formed.

“Those who explore for gas must profit,” Gafni said, adding that in light of the sums involved the issue must be debated openly.

Asked about his priorities as committee chairman, Gafni said, “reducing housing prices, the cost of living and taxation” will improve the quality of life in Israel.

In his interview with TheMarker, it was pointed out that the coalition has a majority of just one on the committee — nine MKs, versus eight opposition lawmakers — reflecting the government’s slim majority.

“The majority isn’t relevant. Any time I call a vote, I will ask that they see to it that nine coalition members are in the room, but I pray to God that I will conduct the meetings as I did the last time, when I tried to create a wall-to-wall consensus that includes both the coalition and the opposition,” Gafni said.

In response to a question about the coalition agreements that provide major funding to ultra-Orthodox institutions and Habayit Hayehudi, purportedly putting 20 million shekels ($5.2 million) at the disposal of each MK, for distribution to various causes, Gafni said: “The coalition negotiating team did us an injustice when it was said that the money was earmarked for distribution by each MK. We are not going to touch the 120 million that was promised to United Torah Judaism. We’ve asked the Finance Ministry to put this money into the basic provisions within the budget.”

The previous government was marked by particular friction between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his erstwhile finance minister, Yair Lapid. Asked whether Netanyahu would fully support Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, Gafni said: “From the impression that I have gotten, including conversations that I have had with Netanyahu and Kahlon, it seems to me that there will be full cooperation. We are in a system in which there are surprises, I hope for the better.”