Steinitz: Israel's natural resources for Israelis

Finance Minister: This is not merely an economic issue, but also a critical moral and value issue.

Minister of Finance Yuval Steinitz today defended the Sheshinski committee before the Knesset Finance Committee, and dismissed threats by Noble Energy Inc. (NYSE: NBL) and Israeli oil and gas exploration companies.

"The Sheshinski committee is due to submit its interim report by mid-November. This is a macroeconomic issue for the years ahead, especially if it turns out that there are discoveries worth hundreds of millions of dollars that will affect the fate of the State of Israel," Steinitz said. "This is not merely an economic issue, but also a critical moral and value issue. It is brazen to tell the Israeli citizen that they have no right to what the citizens of the Netherlands and Norway enjoy. Citizens of the US, a free and capitalist market without equal, benefit from the country's natural resources; shouldnt Israel's citizens benefit? It's simply brazenness.

"Moreover, the claim about retroactivity is an insult to the intelligence. There was no such thing. No country in the world that distinguishes between future and current discoveries. By the way, the argument about retroactivity could be made for any tax, including the company tax, which is being cut without any arguments about retroactivity. The debate should be meticulous and matter of fact. Dont threaten us. I see circumstances for turning the issue of left and right, and see articles about threats that Iran and Lebanon will soon find gas and are already capturing the European market - when they havent even begun to look and are 4-5 years away from doing so.

"Another thing that I dont want to happen: all kinds of scares about international courts and all kinds of fears that foreign investors will flee Israel. When all is said and done, the Land of Israel belongs to the People of Israel, including its natural treasures, and not to foreign investors. Dont come to us with scaremongering."

Finance Committee chairman MK Moshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism) opened the discussion on the state budget bill and economic arrangements bill for 2011-12 by saying, "I believe that the fact that we were unaffected by the crisis is because the finance minister and the government helps the yeshivot (religious institutions). I've always said that and I say it again today."

As for the so-called yeshiva students law, which was inserted into the economic arrangements bill and paves the way for stipends for yeshiva students, despite a High Court of Justice ruling banning them on the grounds of inequality, Gafni said, "I wish to make it absolutely clear that there is no agreement between me and [Shas chairman and Minister of Interior] Eli Yishai. Those are the facts. I've been asked, 'what will be?', and I've said just one thing to everyone: I won't object to a legal arrangement that complies with the requirements of the High Court of Justice ruling and approved by the Attorney General."

Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - - on November 8, 2010

Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2010

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