Despite Speculations, Netanyahu Endorses Sheshinski Report in Full

Shas and Atzmaut are expected to vote in favor of the report, while Yisrael Beiteinu's stance will in most likelihood be against it.

The Sheshinski report should be adopted in full, down to the last comma, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ruled yesterday, thus putting to rest the storm of speculation about his stance.

Three weeks ago the Sheshinski Committee, headed by economist Eytan Sheshinski, recommended sharply increasing the state's take from natural resource exploitation. The issue had become a red-hot one thanks to the enormous discoveries of gas in the rocks under Israel's territorial waters, beneath the Mediterranean Sea.

Benjamin Netanyahu

But the recommendations are just that and the parliamentarians, who must vote on the issue at some point, have come under tremendous pressure from the gas exploration companies and their army of lobbyists, who are hoping to torpedo the Sheshinski report.

Yesterday Netanyahu revealed his position on the report for the first time, and came out swinging for the beleaguered professor.

"I consulted, studied and weighed [the issue], and now the time has come to decide," Netanyahu told the closing session of a conference of government ministry directors general. Announcing he fully endorsed the committee's recommendations, he said the Sheshinski report had achieved "the correct balance between the needs of the state and of the investors."

The committee recommended increasing the state's take of future oil and gas profits to between 52% and 60%, up from the current 30%.

Netanyahu said he reached his decision after consulting with ministers and senior officials including Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz, National Infrastructure Minister Uzi Landau, Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan, Bank of Israel Governor Stanley Fischer, National Economic Council head Eugene Kandel and Prime Minister's Office Director General Eyal Gabbai.

He also said he supports establishing a special fund to invest the state's proceeds from natural gas. The fund would be invested in education and defense, the prime minister said.

He said he had directed Steinitz to bring legislation based on the Sheshinski recommendations to the next cabinet meeting, which is Sunday.

A majority of ministers support the report

Based on a round of discussions Steinitz had with his cabinet colleagues, it seems that a majority - 16 of the 27 ministers who will vote on the Sheshinski recommendations - support them.

The five Yisrael Beiteinu ministers will vote against, as will Erdan (Likud ). Seven others have not disclosed their stance.

Supporters, in addition to the prime minister and finance minister, include Culture and Sport Minister Limor Livnat, Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz, Public Diplomacy Minister Yuli Edelstein, Improvement of Government Services Minister Michael Eitan, Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor and Minister without Portfolio Benny Begin.

Support is also expected from the four Shas ministers: Interior Minister Eli Yishai, Housing and Construction Minister Ariel Atias, Religious Services Minster Yaakov Margi, and Minister without Portfolio Meshulam Nahari.

Most of the former Labor ministers who are now members of Defense Minister Ehud Barak's breakaway Atzmaut party are expected to support Sheshinski.

Barak himself will vote in favor.

His party colleague Shalom Simhon, who is expected to become industry, trade and labor minister in place of Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, is also thought to be on board, as are Matan Vilnai and Orit Noked.

Communications Minister Moshe Kahlon (Likud ) is expected to abstain due to his connection to Jacob Maimon, controlling shareholder in the Isramco exploration partnership..

Minister without Portfolio Yossi Peled will abstain due to his prior business ties with Yitzhak Tshuva, whose Delek Group is heavy involved in the Leviathan and Tamar underwater exploration sites.