Israeli coalition crisis as Mofaz threatens to walk out over universal draft

By Ben Hartman, July 12, 2012
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A religious soldier prays at the Western Wall

A religious soldier prays at the Western Wall

The future of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s 94-seat coalition could be in danger as talks on the universal draft broke down on Wednesday, with Kadima head Shaul Mofaz saying he would leave the government if a solution is not reached by Sunday.

“Without a history-making offer [on universal conscription], we won’t stay in the government,” Mr Mofaz told a meeting of his parliamentary faction on Wednesday, shortly before he was due to meet the prime minister in an effort to reach an understanding.

Passing new legislation aimed at replacing the 10-year-old Tal Law that exempts strictly-Orthodox youths from army or national service was one of two main reasons Kadima reportedly joined the Likud-led coalition in May.

The breakdown took place when Kadima MK Yohanan Plesner walked out of a meeting with Vice Prime Minister Moshe Ya’alon, in which the two had been working on a new bill that would see the strictly-Orthodox and Arab populations drafted into the army or required to do national service. Mr Plesner and Mr Ya’alon were at loggerheads over the sanctions applied to those who duck service, as well as the matter of conscription for Arab Israelis, with Mr Plesner maintaining the issue can wait and the Likud party pushing for a solution to be included in the new draft.

On Sunday, Mr Netanyahu tasked the two with drafting a new bill which they hoped to have ready for a vote at the ministerial committee on legislation this coming Sunday. It now appears that no legislation will be ready by that time, nor before the Knesset adjourns later in July for the summer recess.
Wednesday’s crisis came days after Mr Netanyahu’s Likud voted to adopt all six principles drawn up by the committee on universal service headed by Mr Plesner, which Mr Netanyahu himself had disbanded just a week earlier.

The committee called for 80 per cent of Charedi men to serve in army or national service by 2016 and recommended rewards for those who serve and penalties for those who do not. It also put forward a mechanism for policing and deterring draft-dodging and called a maximum exemption of 1,500 yeshivah students per year.
Mr Netanyahu’s initial decision to dissolve the Plesner committee last week was seen by the public as a capitulation to the Charedi parties, which are staunchly opposed to the legislation.
The prime minister’s change of heart came after a rally in Tel Aviv on Saturday night, when tens of thousands demanded universal service.

Last updated: 3:12pm, July 12 2012