Lawmakers work to override metro law opposition, pass bill before government falls

Legislation is designed to ease severe road congestion in central Israel and reduce negative economic impact of gridlock

Jeremy Sharon is The Times of Israel’s legal affairs and settlements reporter

Illustrative: Underground construction on the Red Line as part of the Tel Aviv Light Rail system, on September 13, 2021. (Moshe Shai/Flash90)
Illustrative: Underground construction on the Red Line as part of the Tel Aviv Light Rail system, on September 13, 2021. (Moshe Shai/Flash90)

With the Knesset on the verge of dissolution, the coalition was still working late Wednesday to pass the so-called metro bill, designed to expedite the development and construction of a sprawling subway in central Israel.

While Yisrael Beytenu has vowed to hold up the dispersal of the Knesset if the metro legislation doesn’t go through, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid attempted to assuage concerns over the clash on Wednesday.

Lapid tweeted Wednesday afternoon that it was “impossible” to drive a wedge between him and Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman, seeking to ease the inter-coalition squabble.

Yisrael Beytenu MK Yulia Malinovsky chairs the Committee on Special National Infrastructure Projects, which has overseen the metro bill in the current Knesset.

A coalition source said that the bill had not been advanced until now because of systematic efforts by the opposition to gum up all government legislation by obstructing legislation in the Knesset plenum and committees by endless objections and parliamentary maneuvers.

The rationale behind the proposed metro system, slated to cost some NIS 150 billion ($43 billion), is to dramatically reduce the severe road congestion in Israel’s central district and thereby ease the heavy economic costs the gridlock causes.

Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli visits the new Allenby underground station of the red line in Tel Aviv, June 23, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Funding and planning for the metro system were already passed in the arrangements law that accompanied the 2021-2022 budget, but did not address numerous bureaucratic and legal problems involved in the construction of the metro.

The lengthy and complex bill currently under discussion in the Knesset would formalize an organizational structure to develop the project, including the establishment of a regulatory council.

The law would also create a format for coordination between different infrastructure agencies required to efficiently advance construction, and at the same time determine policies on issues such as land expropriation for the metro.

Despite likely having a majority in the Knesset for passage in its second and third readings, the opposition strongly opposes the bill and is threatening to stymie dozens of government bills from passing in the final plenum session if the law is passed.

Former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) leads a Likud faction meeting in the Knesset alongside MK Yoav Kisch, January 2, 2017. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

Likud MKs Yoav Kisch and Miri Regev have both said that the Likud opposes the passage of the bill at present since it does not provide rapid transport solutions for the country’s periphery.

Kisch and other Likud MKs have, however, specifically linked retracting their opposition to the bill to approving their preferred date for the impending elections, Oct. 25, when ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students will still be on vacation and thus more likely to vote.

Regev and others have also argued that the metro system will be advanced regardless of whether or not the bill is passed now or at a later stage, but coalition figures, including Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, have insisted that failure to pass the law will significantly delay the project and make it more expensive.

The coalition’s failure to push the bill forward until now has led to recriminations within the government.

Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli criticized her coalition partners Yesh Atid on Tuesday, saying that if the law does not pass “because some coalition members capitulated to the opposition on the back of the general public, they will need to give a public accounting for stymieing a national project.”

Yesh Atid and the Likud have in recent days created a series of agreements over which bills, from the government and opposition, will be approved, and the metro law was left out due to the Likud’s opposition.

Deputy Foreign Minister and senior Yesh Atid politician Idan Roll shot back on Wednesday morning on Army Radio that “every minister needs to ensure that legislation under their authority is advanced,” adding that Lapid was not the minister responsible for the metro bill, but he is doing everything to ensure it passes.

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