JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel's Supreme Court on Sunday overturned the government's landmark deal to begin pumping natural gas, handing a painful blow to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and a consortium of energy companies.
The decision gave parliament a year to amend the plan or the framework will be canceled. It cited a clause in the deal that would prevent Israel from making significant regulatory changes for the next 10 years as reason for scuttling it. It argued the clause restricted parliament's powers.
Netanyahu has made the energy deal a centerpiece of his agenda, saying the gas sales from Israel's large reserves would bring energy self-sufficiency and billions of dollars in tax revenues. Critics have said the deal gave excessively favorable terms to the government's corporate partners.
Netanyahu criticized the ruling, saying it "severely threatens the development of the gas reserves" of Israel. "Israel is seen as a state with excessive judicial interference in which it is difficult to do business. 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.
Resource-poor Israel announced the discovery of sizeable offshore natural gas deposits about five years ago, and a partnership of Israeli and U.S. companies, including Texas-based Noble Energy and Israel's Delek Group — have already begun extracting some reserves.
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