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Transportation minister meets rebel MK, but no agreement reached

Blue and White’s Michael Biton has been boycotting coalition votes over public transportation reform

Knesset Economic Affairs Committee chairman Michael Biton leads a meeting of the committee at the Knesset on December 7, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Knesset Economic Affairs Committee chairman Michael Biton leads a meeting of the committee at the Knesset on December 7, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

As the coalition government faces a growing threat of collapse, a meeting Sunday afternoon between rebel Blue and White MK Michael Biton and Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli ended without any breakthrough.

Biton, who heads the Knesset’s Economic Affairs Committee, has been boycotting most coalition votes for a week in protest over public transportation reforms pushed by Michaeli that skirted his committee’s oversight.

The two sat down in an attempt to reach a solution. The meeting was said to have been held “in a friendly atmosphere,” but did not reach any immediate solution. The meeting was the first between the two in weeks. Biton first announced a boycott of coalition votes close to a month ago, before agreeing to return a week later, after Prime Minister Naftali Bennett vowed to review the reforms, and then renewing his boycott after no action was taken.

Michaeli and Biton reportedly discussed a range of issues on Sunday, and suggested multiple solutions to the public transportation reform issue.

Army Radio reported earlier Sunday that the Finance Ministry had already agreed to several of Biton’s demands, but Michaeli has indicated that some of his objections cannot technically be implemented anytime soon.

Biton says his objections to the reforms are rooted in both procedure and substance. In addition to sidelining his committee, he says the reforms — which unify public transportation prices across Israel — include price hikes that hurt poor and geographically dispersed communities.

Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli attends the opening ceremony of the Transportation Survey in Tel Aviv on May 24, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Despite gaps remaining between the two lawmakers’ positions, efforts will reportedly be made in the coming days to find solutions.

Biton is possibly the coalition’s least worrying rebel. Although he has temporarily stopped voting with the coalition, his conflict with the government is not on an ideological basis, and he has established conditions for his return — namely, progress on the transportation reform issue.

Meanwhile, the Knesset appears to be weeks, if not days, away from dispersal, as MKs from both the left and the right wings of the ideologically diverse coalition look set to bolt.

Yamina MK Nir Orbach has reportedly been holding talks to join Likud as the coalition falters, while Meretz MK Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi and Ra’am MK Mazen Ghanaim have bucked calls to either resign or vote in line with the coalition’s demands.

With internal threats coming from all corners of the coalition, Likud is reportedly preparing to bring a bill to disperse the Knesset and call for a new election to a vote as early as this week.

If successful in a preliminary vote, for which only a simple Knesset majority is required, the bill would need to pass three further Knesset votes with the support of at least 61 of the 120 MKs.

A Knesset dispersal bill is one of three ways to topple the government. The others are a successful no-confidence vote of at least 61 MKs and a government’s failure to pass a timely budget.

There have also been persistent reports that enough right-wing MKs from New Hope and Yamina could defect to join with opposition parties and form a new government without the need for an election.

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