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Knesset members who travel to foreign countries will only fly business class, according to new regulations instituted by Knesset Director-General Dan Landau.

The move will cost Israeli taxpayers an estimated several hundred thousand shekels.

"A Knesset member does not need to beg and plead in order to get an upgrade," said Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin on Monday in an interview with Army Radio. "The Knesset needs to be independent."

Rivlin defended the decision to upgrade MKs for foreign travel by saying that they often have business and diplomatic meetings abroad for which they need to be alert right after arrival.

"Knesset members attend discussions that require great alertness," said Rivlin. "Just now, a delegation left for talks in the U.S., and they were meant to attend meetings the minute they landed. The same thing happens with flights to Europe. Last week Knesset members had to participate in a symposium in Poland just after they landed."

The new regulations improve travel conditions for Knesset members, who until now could only get an upgrade for flights longer than six hours, including those to the U.S. and the Far East.

Dozens of Knesset delegations travel abroad every year, with 36 having been dispatched in 2009, mostly to nearby destinations such as Turkey and Europe. The Knesset travel budget for 2010 is NIS 2.2 million.

Some MKs have criticized the decision to upgrade them, saying that during a time of financial hardship, the Knesset should set an example of fiscal restraint.