Talks planned to end Blue and White MK’s boycott on backing coalition bills

Talks were planned Monday to attempt to convince a lawmaker from the coalition’s Blue and White party to resume voting with the government after he announced a boycott last week to protest some ministers’ policies.

Disgruntled MK Michael Biton was due to meet with cabinet secretary Shalom Shlomo at his office along with other officials, according to Hebrew media reports.

Though some outlets initially said no ministers would attend, others later reported that Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman would be at the meeting.

Biton declared last week that he would no longer vote for coalition bills, in protest of proposed reforms in public transportation and agriculture. Still, he said he would not go so far as to refrain from supporting the coalition in no-confidence bills aimed at bringing it down.

The Blue and White MK charged that Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli and Agriculture Minister Oded Forer — who is a member of Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu party — were “hurting the weak,” citing a proposal from the former to raise ticket prices. He also called for all the Agriculture Ministry’s reforms to be halted until an agreement is reached with farmers.

A senior Blue and White source indicated at the time 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 Knesset Economic Committee, which Biton chairs.

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

Gantz told Blue and White activists over the weekend that he is aware of progress in talks between Biton and Forer and expressed hope that Michaeli, who leads the Labor party, would also come to the table and negotiate.

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, jumped ship from the coalition last month.

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

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