‘Metropolitan law’ hangs in the balance as opposition seeks to influence election calendar
Opposition lawmakers led by the Likud party appear to have seized on plans for an Israeli metro system – the country’s most ambitious public transport project – as a bargaining chip in the ongoing disagreement with the coalition on the upcoming electoral calendar. Israel is likely heading for another round of national elections, its fifth in three-and-a-half years, after lawmakers passed the first reading of a bill to dissolve Israel’s 24th Knesset in the early hours of Tuesday morning.
Legislation for the dispersal of the Knesset is expected to pass its final readings by midnight Wednesday.
Transport Minister Merav Michaeli spent Tuesday convincing the Arab-majority Joint List party, which is part of the opposition, to support the so-called metro law and push it through, according to the authorities. media in Hebrew. Likud had previously indicated support for the bill, but it was one of the pieces of legislation that was scrapped on Monday under opposition and coalition agreements when lawmakers spent the day debating issues such as that the date of the next elections – the opposition prefers October 25 while the coalition would like to set November 1, a week later, as the day of the vote – and what legislation would be passed before parliament is dissolved.
A bill that would prevent an impeached person — like former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — from forming a government will also not advance, and Likud has signaled it plans to vote against a pair of bills. relevant information that is essential for Israel to join the US Visa Waiver Program. This is to thwart the coalition’s attempt to advance the widely popular initiative on the eve of the election season.
The Visa Waiver Program allows citizens of participating countries to visit the United States without applying for and obtaining a visa, which takes time and money and is by no means guaranteed.
Likud is also reportedly delaying this legislation due to the dispute over the election schedule.
According to Kan, the opposition prefers Oct. 25 when yeshiva students — the main voters in the Likud bloc, made up in part of ultra-Orthodox parties — are on vacation. But as of Tuesday evening, a majority of Knesset members were inclined to decide on Nov. 1, Kan reported.
Earlier on Tuesday, the United States made a rare appeal to Israeli lawmakers to back the visa legislation and reached out to senior Likud official Yariv Levin, asking the opposition party not to vote against the plans. of law.
In the clearest indication that Likud was also dangling the subway law to secure its preferred election timetable, the party’s Yoav Kish told the Knesset on Tuesday, according to Kan: “I’m telling you in the simplest way , the date of the elections is important. We want an achievement. If you want the metro, I’m ready to convince [the Likud] and say that for [the election date] We will do it [finalize] the Subway.”
The Metro Law would have provided oversight and funding for a new metro system being built in central Israel; half of the network has already been approved.
The program is Israel’s most ambitious infrastructure project, aiming to connect suburban areas of Tel Aviv to significantly reduce traffic. But as it largely passes through already densely built-up areas, it is potentially one of the world’s most complex engineering projects. Other metro systems were built before urban areas rather than after.
According to the plan, some 45 kilometers (28 miles) of track and 31 stations would connect Tel Aviv, Rehovot, Ness Ziona, Lod, Be’er Yaakov, Rishon Lezion, Holon and Ramat Hasharon, for a line called M1 South. Another line, M3, would offer 39 kilometers of track with 25 stations, linking Bat Yam, Holon, Tel Aviv, Ramat Gan, Petah Tikva and Or Yehuda.
It was not expected that passengers would be able to travel on these lines until 2032 at the earliest.
As The Times of Israel previously reported, another northern section of the proposed network has caused difficulties that would push back connections to Modi’in, Ra’anana, Kfar Saba and Hod Hasharon until at least 2040.
Until this week, Knesset members were relatively united behind the project, which aims to solve Israel’s long-term traffic problems by getting cars off the roads and helping commuters.
According to Kan, Michaeli promised the Joint List on Tuesday that she would support the construction of a metro line in an Arab-majority area known as the Triangle, and includes cities such as Taybe, Tira and Kafr Qasim. But Likud, as the main opposition party, refused to bring the law up for discussion.
Michaeli said on Twitter that it will be up to the opposition to explain their reasoning, and “they will have to account for why the national project that can help us escape traffic jams has been stopped because of petty politics.” .
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett also took to Twitter on Monday to implore the opposition not to repeal the Metro law. “Don’t deprive Israel of such an essential metro. Israel is a modern country that does not have a metro like in New York, Paris or London. This is why we suffer from endless traffic jams.
There is no right and left here,” he wrote.
“If the law is not passed, it will be postponed for many years and all our children will pay the price,” he added.
Until this week, the legislation was believed to have cross-party support, as the metro is seen as a key element in the development of efficient public transport systems.
So far, the 2022 national budget has allocated NIS 6 billion ($1.8 billion) for the construction of the metro system. The total bill for the project is estimated by the Bank of Israel 150 billion shekels ($43 billion). Half of this sum is expected to come from the government’s regular budget and the other half from “unbudgeted sources”, with most of the money needed between 2026 and 2036.
There is already a plan in place that municipalities that will be connected to the metro will have to start contributing financially to the costs of the project from next year, and that landowners near the lines should also face higher taxes reflect the benefits they will derive from it.
Carrie Keller-Lynn, Jacob Magid and Lazar Berman contributed to this report.