Netanyahu Delays Vote on Gas Deal as Coalition Stalls

YERUSHALAYIM -

The weakness of a narrow governing coalition showed through glaringly on Monday as Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was forced to postpone a Knesset vote on the all-important natural gas deal due to the failure to marshal a majority.

At least three cabinet members recused themselves, citing conflicts of interest, and hoped-for support from Yisrael Beiteinu was not forthcoming. Aware of the insufficiency of coalition votes, the opposition was present in full force, and Netanyahu ordered a tactical retreat until a majority could be composed.

Under the proposed deal, Texas-based Noble Energy and Israel’s Delek Group would not have to divest from the huge Leviathan field, as the Antitrust Commission had wanted, but will only be selling off smaller holdings, industry officials are quoted as saying.

According to media reports, extraordinary pressure is being brought to bear on Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, Construction Minister Yoav Galant and Welfare Minister Haim Katz, to set aside their qualms about conflicts of interest. Knesset legal advisor Eyal Yinon was enlisted to state his opinion that their concerns would present no legal obstacle to participation in the voting.

Yisrael Beitenu MK Orly Levy-Abekasis, meanwhile, sent an urgent request to Yinon to prevent any vote on the gas plan until such time as the government makes full disclosure of its details to the members of the Knesset.

Opposition chairman Isaac Herzog charged that “Netanyahu is burying the Israeli public’s gas in the shadows, far from view … We are sick of rumors and half-truths. What are Netanyahu and his government afraid of? If the secret plan is so good, the public would support it.”

On the other hand, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked tried to rally support with a plea not to “chicken out,” during her speech in the plenum.

“You will do the right thing if here you vote for what is good for the country today,” she said. “If the outline we propose today is right from a geopolitical perspective, vote for it. Egypt and Argentina are crying to this day because their gas is still under the sea and regulation complicated things. Make a real, ideological judgment. My friends in the coalition and opposition, don’t chicken out! Do what is right for the country, even if it is not popular.”

That, of course, was before Netanyahu delayed the vote.