The Knesset approved on Monday the framework for licensing Israel's natural gas riches by a vote of 59 in favor and 51 against.
The move is an important step in finalizing contracts with developers Noble Energy and Delek Drilling, who hold the franchise for exploring and developing the Leviathan and Tamar gas fields. However, those contracts may still be some time away.
Supporting the deal were almost all coalition MKs who were present in the Knesset, as well as MKs of Yisrael Beytenu. Absent from the vote was a long list of ministers, including Moshe Kahlon, Haim Katz, and Naftali Bennett. Party heads Avigdor Liberman and Yair Lapid also skipped the discussion and vote.
Although the revised deal – which requires lessees to pay higher licensing fees as well as develop gas in the Tamar field and sell it at a discount to the state – has been approved by the government and now by the Knesset, it still has more hurdles to jump.
Not included in Monday's vote was a section of the bill that would transfer authority over the contracts with Noble and Delek from Economy Minister Arye Deri to the cabinet – seen as a key portion of the deal.
Deri refuses to defy former Antitrust Commissioner David Gilo, who opposed the deal, and has made it clear that he will not support the deal unless a new antitrust commissioner who does support the deal is found.
Without the transfer of power – or Deri's approval of the contracts – Monday's vote is strictly symbolic, as it does not entail approval of any deals.
Still, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu accepted it gracefully, applauding the decision and telling supporters at a pre-Rosh Hashana event that “we are completing the gas deal step by step, despite the problems that have cropped up."
"We are getting closer to the point where, in the next three years, Israel will take in between $8 and $10 billion in new investments. This will provide new jobs and growth.”
The Likud issued a statement praising the vote as proof of the stability of the coalition.
“Despite the insults and the negative spin, the coalition has proven stable and capable of advancing important economic legislation. A narrow coalition managed to pass this important piece of legislation by a large majority.”
The Zionist Union, meanwhile, expressed its glee over cancellation of the section of the bill discussing the transfer of authority over the gas deal.
“With the 'Deri route' to circumventing the opposition to the gas deal failed to succeed, Netanyahu, like a top mobster, tried his best to blackmail MKs in the coalition and opposition to get his plan passed," the party said.