It remains to be seen whether outgoing Economy Minister Arye Dery will have to keep on representing “the invisible” within the limited framework of the Ministry for the Development of the Negev and Galilee, or whether his future in the government will bring him a brand new ministry tailor-made for him. But his embarrassing flight from the Economy Ministry after just six months in the post clearly attests, yet again, to the man’s keen political utilitarianism. It also exposes the government’s weakness in the face of the tycoons, and its failure to protect the public interest.
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Deri, who had refused to use his authority as economy minister to confirm the natural gas deal, decided over the weekend to get out of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s way so that the prime minister could confirm it himself as economy minister or appoint someone else to do so, after he failed to get the deal through the Knesset.
“It fell on me, because the previous antitrust commissioner didn’t want to sign off on the deal,” Deri explained. “At first I tried to transfer the authority, but in light of requests from senior officials, who told me that the deal was no good and needed to be changed I tried to improve it as much as I could. I am looking after the invisible and the weaker populations. In the current situation, in which six years have gone by and nothing has been done, the deal should be approved.”
If that is truly how he feels, one wonders why the minister did not behoove himself to do his job and confirm the agreement. It’s quite possible that Deri knows the same thing that a long list of other officials and bureaucrats, who betray their position and remain silent, know: that this deal is far from beneficial for Israelis.
Even after the “improvements” that Deri is promising, the deal does not ensure the development of the Leviathan gas field within the time frame that the prime minister previously said was crucial; it harms the economy’s energy security by permitting early exports from the Tamar gas field without another connection to the shore; it fails to protect the consumer given the lack of price supervision and the non-competitive prices stated in the contracts to begin with; and above all, it does not break the natural gas monopoly of Noble Energy, which will continue to operate the two largest gas fields in Israel, and also be granted unprecedented regulatory immunity that will tie the hands of future governments and regulators.
The proposed gas deal has already claimed a number of victims: regulators and officials who resigned (Antitrust Commissioner David Gilo), were dismissed (Electricity Authority chairwoman Orit Farkash), or preferred to avoid a head-on collision with tycoons close to them (Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon). Deri now joins the group that surrounds Netanyahu and has lost faith in its ability to do its job, especially when called upon to oppose the prime minister’s wishes.