Vote on Gas Deal Turns Into Political Drama

Crucial Knesset vote over natural gas deal becomes motion of confidence in Netanyahu government; Lieberman: We will not be the coalition's babysitter.

Emil Salman

A Knesset plenum vote on a cabinet decision to exempt the gas industry from antitrust scrutiny for national security reasons will be a motion of confidence, it was announced hours before the vote was meant to take place on Monday.

Making the vote a motion of confidence means ministers who recused themselves from the vote due to conflicts of interest will be required to vote for the motion, giving it a Knesset majority.

However, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided to make the vote the last item on the Knesset's agenda, and without a majority it is doubtful the plenum will vote at all.

At the outset of the Likud faction meeting, Netanyahu said: "The gas outline is a good, responsible, monopole-breaking outline that will funnel the state coffers hundreds of billions for education, welfare, health and other needs."

The vote is the last legal step in getting the competition package completed and ready to present to the energy companies.

Before the vote was made a motion of confidence, it would have required support from the opposition to be passed. Now that the vote is a motion of confidence, ministers Moshe Kahlon, Yoav Galant, and Haim Katz, who previously recused themselves, will be required to vote, giving the motion a 61 votes majority.

The government has been fighting with the energy companies and, just as much, officials have been fighting among themselves about how to ensure competition in an industry where Delek and Noble control nearly all of Israel’s reserves. Antitrust Commissioner David Gilo sparked the debate last December after rescinding an earlier agreement to allow the two companies to retain most of their holdings.

On Monday, Yisrael Beiteinu Chairman Avigdor Lieberman said his faction will vote the bid, even though he is in favor of the outlined deal with the gas companies.

"We will not be the coalition's babysitter," Lieberman said, adding: "If the prime minister doesn't know how to get the ministers [] or order the finance minister to sign, he should reach the conclusion and resign."