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Renegade MK to resume voting with coalition after PM pledges to review reforms

Economic Committee head Michael Biton had vowed to boycott most votes, hobbling razor-thin coalition; Bennett promises to look at agriculture, transport reforms that raised his ire

Blue and White MK Michael Biton leads an Economic Affairs Committee meeting at the Knesset, in Jerusalem on December 7, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Blue and White MK Michael Biton leads an Economic Affairs Committee meeting at the Knesset, in Jerusalem on December 7, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

A lawmaker from the coalition’s Blue and White party on Monday agreed to temporarily resume voting with the government after announcing a boycott to protest planned reforms in agriculture and public transportation.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett met on Monday morning with Economic Affairs Committee Chairman MK Michael Biton for negotiations on Biton’s coalition strike. After the meeting, Biton agreed to again vote alongside his fellow lawmakers for the next two weeks, a spokesperson for the MK confirmed to The Times of Israel.

Citing frustration with the government’s planned reforms, Biton announced last week that he would cease operations in his critical committee and boycott almost all coalition votes.

The current government no longer carries a Knesset majority, holding only 60 out of 120 lawmakers, so that the loss of even a single member could be fatal for the razor-thin coalition’s already frayed capacity to pass legislation.

Bennett’s office said the premier would use the next two weeks’ grace period handed it by Biton to speak with other coalition leaders in order to resolve the dissident MK’s complaints. Bennett also pledged to review the planned agricultural and transportation reforms to seek to bridge the gaps between the sides.

Biton had charged that Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli and Agriculture Minister Oded Forer were “hurting the weak.” Biton singled out Michaeli’s proposals for particular ire, slamming a plan to raise ticket prices on public transportation in some cities — including his hometown of Yeruham. He also called for all the Agriculture Ministry’s reforms to be halted until an agreement is reached with farmers.

Blue and White MK Michael Biton chairs a meeting of the Knesset Economic Committee on May 25, 2022. (Knesset Spokesperson/Noam Moskowitz

Biton’s declaration last week that he would no longer vote for coalition bills left the government with a minority in the Knesset, although the Blue and White MK stressed he would not go so far as to refrain from supporting the coalition in no-confidence bills aimed at bringing it down.

A senior Blue and White source indicated at the time that Biton’s demands were backed by the party. “We call on Michaeli to bring back proper conduct to the coalition and Knesset,” the unnamed source was quoted as saying after Michaeli failed to attend a meeting of the Economic Affairs Committee.

Others in the coalition blamed Blue and White’s leader, Defense Minister Benny Gantz. Bennett worried recently that Gantz’s “bitterness” was undermining the government, according to an unsourced Haaretz report.

Biton’s announcement marked a fresh headache for the coalition and came just days after Meretz MK Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi reversed her brief decision to stop backing the government. The coalition and the opposition have been at parity in the Knesset with 60 seats each since Idit Silman, a member of Bennett’s Yamina party, bolted the coalition last month.

The government is an unwieldy amalgam of right-wing, centrist and leftist parties, along with the Islamist Ra’am, and has struggled to strike a balance between its different factions since coming into power last year, especially in recent months.

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