Israeli prime minister signs landmark deal to develop gas deposits, despite protest by critics

JERUSALEM – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has signed a landmark deal with U.S. and Israeli gas companies to develop Israel’s offshore gas deposits, despite months of protest by liberal lawmakers and environmentalists.

Resource-poor Israel announced the discovery of sizeable offshore natural gas deposits about five years ago, and a partnership made up of Israeli and U.S. companies began extracting gas.

After the country’s antitrust commissioner determined last year that the gas companies’ ownership constituted a monopoly, a government committee reached a deal with the firms to break up their control and introduce competition.

Critics say the deal favours the developers over the Israeli public. Netanyahu dismissed the criticism as “populist,” and signed the deal Thursday.

Groups opposed to the deal are submitting petitions to challenge it in Israel’s supreme court.