Eilat, Dead Sea tourist islands rejected due to coalition fight

United Torah Judaism blocks fines, aims to save coalition

Eilat Israel’s winter wonderland  (photo credit: ASSAF FINCHUK)
Eilat Israel’s winter wonderland
(photo credit: ASSAF FINCHUK)
A proposal to create “tourist islands” in Eilat and by the Dead Sea – in which hotels, tourist attractions, restaurants and key businesses could open – fell victim to squabbles in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s governing coalition on Monday.
Health Minister Yuli Edelstein asked the Knesset plenum to remove Knesset Law and Constitution Committee changes to the bill that would have allowed for other tourist sites to be added to the list and enabled people who have already had the coronavirus to enter them.
When the coalition failed to pass Edelstein’s amendments in a 49-46 vote, he announced that the government no longer supported the proposal, effectively killing it.
“Populist MKs took Eilat hostage for gimmicks that would endanger the public,” Edelstein said. “Unfortunately, populism won.”
The opposition Yesh Atid Party blamed the failure of the bill on problems inside the government.
“It is shameful that even with the support of the opposition to return Eilat to life, the government has failed,” Yesh Atid said in a press release. “This situation, in which political struggles harm the citizens, must be stopped.”
Tourism Minister Orit Farkash-Hacohen (Blue and White) called on MKs in the plenum to support the proposal as a first step, after opposition MKs complained it did not go far enough.
“Let’s first test it and make sure it works, helps the economy in the tourist sites and does not do damage,” she told the plenum.
Due to another fight inside the coalition, a proposal to double coronavirus fines that was supposed to pass in the plenum on Monday was postponed, perhaps indefinitely.
The Ministerial Committee on Legislation voted last Tuesday to advance a bill that would double coronavirus fines from NIS 5,000 to NIS 10,000, as health officials warned that morbidity is on the rise. The doubling of the fines was a concession after efforts to quadruple them to NIS 20,000.
United Torah Judaism MKs met late on Sunday with Netanyahu and threatened him, which resulted in the delay.
The UTJ MKs who visited Netanyahu at his home urged him to end the ongoing fight over the state budget with Blue and White leader Benny Gantz. They offered to mediate between Netanyahu and Gantz to prevent an election.
UTJ is eager to block an election over concerns it will not be in the next coalition. The party also wants the current government to function in order to pass an IDF draft bill by a new court-imposed deadline.
On Monday night, Netanyahu spoke with Edelstein, the Government-Knesset Liaison Dudi Amsalem, and the chairman of the Constitution Committee, MK Yaakov Asher.
It was agreed during their conversation that the ministers and the chairman of the committee will meet tomorrow in order to reach an understanding to complete the legislation of the “tourist islands” in Eilat and the Dead Sea as soon as possible.