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The wheeling and dealing continued until the final hours leading up to the Knesset's vote Tuesday in favor of the Economic Arrangements Bill, bringing the government one step closer to passing the 2006 budget.
After more than a week of negotiations, United Torah Judaism (UTJ) decided to abstain from the budgetary vote in return for the government's pledge to channel NIS 290 million to yeshivas and other Ultra-Orthodox institutions.
Earlier in the week, the government convinced Israel Beiteinu and National Union-National Religious Party (NU-NRP) to also abstain after NIS 302 million was promised to institutions championed by those parties.
Although the government needs a simple majority (more than half of the MKs present in the plenum) to vote in favor of the Arrangements Bill in order to pass it, they struck deals with the majority of the opposition parties, leaving only Likud, Meretz and the Arab parties to vote against the bill.
"This is the first task of the new government and there needs to be a strong consensus," said a Kadima spokesman.
With near-daily rebellions in the Labor Party and voices of discontent from MKs within his own party, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert wanted to achieve a broad base of support within the government, said sources in the Prime Minister's Office.
Despite his success with other parties, Olmert could not convince Kadima MK Marina Solodkin to vote in favor of the budget. The Russian-born Solodkin said she was abstaining from the vote due to Olmert's failure to appoint a new immigrant MK as a minister.
Contrary to his own party's agreement, NU-NRP MK Aryeh Eldad also voted against the budget.
"We must not find ourselves in a situation in which we are for sale," said Eldad. "The public in Judea and Samaria must know that we are saying to this government, and for all that it stands for, a loud and clear 'No!'"
The vote over the bill took several hours, as the Knesset had to vote separately on the hundreds of articles in the bill.
Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik (Kadima) repeatedly had to call the unruly vote to order as MKs drifted in and out of the plenum.
"Ministers, please stop talking or you will not hear what you are voting on," chastised Itzik. Interior Minister Roni Bar-On (Kadima) smiled in return.
With countless clauses and sub-articles, the Arrangements Bill is more a hodgepodge of legislation than a cohesive document, explained a Knesset Finance Committee spokesman. Most of the MKs did not even bother to keep track of what, exactly, they were voting on in the bill at a given time, said the spokesman.
There have been many calls to cancel the Arrangements bill, including from MKs who voted for it in Tuesday's vote.
"We all know what this bill is: it simply ushers in all the clauses and bills that nobody wants to look at and we pass it with closed eyes," said MK Avishay Braverman (Labor). "This type of legislation should not happen."
Fellow Labor MK Michael Melchior presented a bill to cancel the Economic Arrangements Bill on the very same day he voted for it.
"The party line is in favor, so we voted in favor," said a spokeswoman for Melchior. "But we are working towards this in the future."
The bill includes a series of structural reforms to various industries that the Finance Ministry would have difficulty passing through the regular legislation process. Two of the most noteworthy reforms are the "open skies" policy for the aviation industry, which hopes to increase flight traffic to and from Israel, and the establishment of a government water authority.
Supplementary legislation will also include government funding to school children that have been hospitalized for a lengthy period, government subsidies to industries that promote recycling through deposits on bottles and tax reforms that allow for spouses to calculate their incomes and file taxes separately.
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