Netanyahu: Canceling Gas Deal Would Ruin Israel’s ‘Golden Opportunity’

YERUSHALAYIM -
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sits next to one of his defense lawyers as he waits for the Supreme Court to convene in Jerusalem, Sunday, Feb. 14, 2016. Netanyahu made an unprecedented appearance at the Supreme Court to defend a deal signed in December with U.S. and Israeli developers drilling offshore gas deposits. Israel's Channel 10 TV reported Netanyahu as telling the court that if Israel were to alter its deal investors could turn away and buy gas from Israel's enemies instead. (Jim Hollander/Pool Photo via AP)
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu sits next to one of his defense lawyers as he waits for the High Court to convene in Yerushalayim, Sunday. (Jim Hollander/Pool Photo via AP)

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu testified before the High Court Sunday – in his capacity as Economy Minister – about the importance of continuing with the framework of the gas deal as it currently exists, and not changing the contracts with the firms developing the Leviathan gas field.

Netanyahu was testifying on behalf of the state in defense of the gas deal that the government signed with Noble Energy and Delek Drilling, in the wake of five separate petitions by various groups against it. Among the groups involved in the petitions are environmental organizations, political parties, consumer rights groups, and gas exploration firms. Dozens of protesters were outside the court Sunday, demanding that it rule against the continuation of the deal. Opponents challenged the deal because they say it favors the developers over the Israeli public.

The petitions claim that the current agreement to develop Leviathan should be dumped for a variety of reasons – because it will endanger the ecosystem of the Mediterranean, and thus Israel, because the licensees are not paying the government enough, and because exporting the gas (as the companies wish to do) will jeopardize Israeli security, among other reasons.

In his testimony, Netanyahu repeated what he said in a statement to the court last week: “continuing with the gas deal as it exists is important to Israel’s standing in the Middle East. Without the gas framework that we have developed there will be no investors and no one to develop new gas fields.”

Netanyahu urged the court to quickly resolve the matter. ““I supported the framework that was developed and promote it because I realized that we were in a difficult situation, and that there were no real alternatives. We are at the last possible moment for development of these resources. Any further delay will cause a collapse of the framework, and bring about serious long-term damage. We could be missing out on a golden historical opportunity,” he added.

In an affidavit submitted to the court last week, Netanyahu said that “any new deal in the development of the gas fields will lead to severe damage to Israel’s security, and to its foreign relations. Any alternative to the current plan is theoretical and untenable.” He added: “I believe that without the framework we have developed Israel’s security and economy will we damaged, and we will lose out on the opportunity to strengthen our status in the region and the world,” he added.