Netanyahu faces crisis over Israel gas monopoly | Fin24
 
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Netanyahu faces crisis over Israel gas monopoly

Jun 29 2015 19:45

Jerusalem - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday faced his first major coalition crisis since his re-election, with ministers withholding support for government plans for developing Israel's natural gas fields.

At least three cabinet members cited conflicts of interest - personal or business-related - in seeking to be recused from a parliament vote later in the day meant to pave the way for a gas deal that would circumvent anti-trust regulation.

Netanyahu, who has a one-seat majority in the 120-member parliament, held emergency meetings to try and resolve the impasse.

Under the proposed deal, Texas-based Noble Energy and Israel's Delek Group would keep ownership of the massive offshore Leviathan field while stakes in smaller projects are put up for sale, industry officials said.

The agreement has become the focus of national debate with critics saying Netanyahu was putting big oil profits above what could be a windfall for the state and citizens hoping to lower energy prices.

Netanyahu says the more pressing issue is to get the gas out of the ground and fast-track the development of Israel's natural resources.

Development of Leviathan, which could supply billions of dollars worth of gas to Egypt and Jordan, has been held up for a few years by regulatory issues. Israel's anti-trust authority objects to the monopoly arrangement.

Facing possible defeat in parliament, Netanyahu could declare the vote a ballot of confidence in his government, political analysts said. That could effectively force recalcitrant ministers to back the measure.

Netanyahu's original plan to push the deal through swiftly last week, was derailed by his economy minister, Aryeh Deri of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, who declined to sign off on the agreement. He cited monopoly concerns.

That in turn forced Netanyahu to go to parliament in order to give the government the required authorisation to finalise the deal with Noble and Delek, which currently control a number of gas fields off Israel's shore.

The US State Department, hailing prospective regional benefits, has voiced support for moving ahead with the deals between Noble Energy, Jordan and Egypt. US Secretary of State John Kerry has discussed the matter with Netanyahu in the past.

israel  |  world economy
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