Israel OKs revised version of natural gas deal with US company

GMT 01:41 2015 Monday ,17 August

Arab Today, arab today Israel OKs revised version of natural gas deal with US company

Natural gas deal
Jerusalem - XINHUA

Israel approved on Sunday a revised outline of an agreement with the U.S. gas company and the state over the development of Israel's offshore natural gas fields, the Prime Minister's Office announced in a statement.

This is the second version of an agreement between the Israeli government, the U.S.-based Noble Energy and the Israeli Delek group, owned by tycoon Yitzhak Tshuva.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu withdrew the previous outline draft prior to a parliament vote, as he did not have the majority of more than 60 supporters in the 120-member parliament to pass it in late June.

On Sunday, the Israeli government voted nearly unanimously in favor of the agreement, with only one objection from Environmental Protection Minister Avi Gabay.

According to the agreement, the Delek group would sell its holdings in the Tamar, Karish and Tanin gas fields within six years, and Noble Energy would reduce its holdings to be no more than 25 percent during the same period. In addition, the prices for the natural gas will be regulated in this timeframe.

Currently, Noble Energy and Delek Group control all of Israel's four offshore gas fields, including two smaller fields called Karish and Tanin.

The outline also specifies that while the government is bound to the agreement, the parliament is not and lawmakers can vote on making changes to it.

Following the cabinet's approval, the deal will pass on the parliament for approval, where it will face some difficulties with strong opposition from center-left parties. Netanyahu's coalition has a very thin margin over the opposition (61-59), which increases the odds for a political showdown over this issue.

Netanyahu, who have pushed the deal forward, said the decision to approve the deal is "historic," as it would flow in "hundreds of billions" of shekels into the Israeli economy.

"This is a significant improvement compared to the current situation," he added, rejecting criticism of the deal and calling it "populism" that stalls the development of the natural gas fields.

There have been ongoing negotiations between the Israeli government and the consortium that includes Noble Energy and Delek Group in recent months, discussing, among others, the prices set for Israeli consumers and the fear of monopoly of the companies in the gas fields that were discovered in the past several years off the shores of Israel.

The negotiations, and the previous version of the agreement, brought out many critics, including that the deal would only strengthen the companies' monopoly on natural gas fields and increase prices to consumers with lax regulations on the companies' conduct, and that there are many details hidden from the public.

Several dozens of Israeli social-economic activists protested on Sunday outside the cabinet meeting against the approval of the agreement. They called government members to disclose the entire terms of the agreement. The police detained two protesters for questioning, the Walla! news website reported.

In June, thousands of Israelis attended protests in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem to object the outline and demanded that the government act with transparency on this issue, which is vital to the Israeli society and economy.

These protests might have affected several lawmakers in late June as Netanyahu failed to pass the previous version of the agreement.

The protesters relied on the summer of 2011 social economic protests, in which Israelis took to the streets demanding social justice, lowering the costs of living and ending the monopoly of tycoons on the Israeli economy.

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