JERUSALEM (JTA) – Israel’s Supreme Court struck down a key provision of the government’s controversial natural gas deal.
In a 4-1 ruling Sunday, the high court rejected the stability clause, which guarantees that the current and future governments will not change the deal or place regulatory changes on the gas industry for at least the next 10 years.
The court gave the government a year to amend the agreement.
It did not object to the government’s use of a clause in the Restrictive Trade Practices Law that allowed the economy minister to approve a monopoly if it is a matter of national security in order to push the deal through last year.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu criticized the ruling in a statement released by his office on Sunday evening.
“The High Court of Justice decision severely threatens the development of the gas reserves of the State of Israel,” Netanyahu said in the statement.
“Certainly nobody has any reason to celebrate that the gas is liable to remain in the depths of the sea and that hundreds billions of shekels will not reach the citizens of Israel,” he said. “We will seek other ways to overcome the severe damage that this curious decision has caused the Israeli economy.”
The statement also criticized the court.
“Israel is seen as a state with excessive judicial interference in which it is difficult to do business,” the prime minister said.
The deal would allow two companies, Texas-based Noble Energy and the Israeli Delek Group, to retain majority control of the Leviathan field for 10 years after the gas begins flowing in exchange for reducing its holdings in three other gas fields.
Leviathan, discovered in 2010 in the Mediterranean Sea west of Haifa, is estimated to hold 16 trillion to 18 trillion cubic feet of gas.
Thousands of Israelis have protested the deal and called for the gas fields to be nationalized over concerns that the gas consortium will keep prices high and agree to export much of the gas.