Netanyahu to Take Over Key Cabinet Portfolio to Pass Contentious Natural Gas Framework

After Economy Minister Dery refused to bypass anti-trust commissioner, he and Netanyahu reached a deal; 'the two politicians are trying to outdo the writers of House of Cards,' Zionist Union blasts.

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Economy Minister Arye Dery during a plenary discussion of the gas framework in the Knesset. Credit: Emil Salman

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to take over a key portfolio to safeguard the passage of a controversial framework for Israel's natural gas reserves. On Sunday, Netanyahu will replace Arye Dery (Shas) as Israel's Economy Minister and is expected to appoint a new anti-trust commissioner and request the Knesset to remove the framework from the commissioner's jurisdiction, thus securing its passage into law.

Dery had initially refused requests to bypass previous commissioner Prof. David Gilo, who objected to the framework and quit his post in the wake of Netanyahu's attempts to pass it into law. Dery will now leave the Economy Ministry and retain his title as the minister responsible for Negev and Galilee development, but will see the ministry's authorities significantly expanded.

As TheMarker reported, the move comes as part of a deal reached with Dery in which his new ministry will receive an additional 300 million shekels, bringing its total budget to 450 million shekels. In addition, the ministry's responsibilities will be expanded to include poverty-stricken communities not geographically included in the Negev or the Galilee.

Dery demanded Netanyahu expand the ministry's authority and talks between the two are expected to continue next week, even after Dery leaves his current post. Sources within Dery's Shas party said he gave up the economy portfolio to help Netanyahu make headway with the gas framework, but that he would not be left controlling the Negev and Galilee ministry alone.

After the Economy Ministry passes into Netanyahu's hands, the prime minister is expected to try to pass the framework by requesting the Knesset's Economic Affairs Committee to discuss the possibility of revoking the anti-trust commissioner's authority over the gas market by invoking clause 52 of the antitrust law, which allows the economy minister to overrule the commissioner.

The head of the economic committee, MK Eitan Cabel, a member of the opposition Zionist Union party who has voiced criticism of the framework and of Dery's departure, is expected to chair the session. Though the opposition enjoys a majority in the committee, the government does not need one to remove the anti-trust commissioner's authority in this regard, but only needs the committee to discuss the issue. The government hopes to see the framework passed in upcoming weeks.

The Zionist Union blasted the Netanyahu and Dery's deal as a underhanded scheme. "The two politicians are trying to outdo the writers of House of Cards," the party said, labeling Dery's expanded ministry as a "sad joke" at the expense of the government's voters in the north and south.