The new Netanyahu-Mofaz coalition got off to a rocky start this week with major disputes over a new law on national service for yeshivah students and the future of settler outposts in the West Bank.
One of the main tasks of the coalition — which was formed last week with the support of 94 Knesset members — is to re-draft the Tal Law, which currently exempts yeshivah students from IDF service.
The Knesset has until August to pass a new law, following the High Court’s ruling that it is unconstitutional.
While Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has committed himself to equality in national service, the Charedi members of the coalition dealt him a blow on Monday when they announced they would not participate in the committee charged with drafting a new law.
The Shas chairman, Interior Minister Eli Yishai, said on Monday that his party’s members would not co-operate with the committee following a ruling by Shas spiritual leader, Rabbi Ovadya Yossef, that “there is to be no negotiation on the basic right of yeshivah students to study Torah”.
Mr Yishai accused the committee’s chairman, MK Yochanan Plessner (Kadima), of planning to force a new law on the yeshivahs.
United Torah Judaism, the smaller Charedi party in the coalition, is also expected to boycott the committee.
Meanwhile, the government still has to come up with a solution to the outposts issue. This was exacerbated by a High Court ruling that five houses in the Givat Ulpana neighbourhood of Beit El, which were built on privately-owned Palestinian land, be demolished by the end of next month.
A private-members bill by Likud MK Miri Regev proposes that the ruling be bypassed by extending Israeli law to all the settlements, enabling the land to be confiscated from its Palestinian owners.
On Sunday, the government’s legislative committee was to vote on the proposal, with a majority initially in favour. Mr Netanyahu, who was warned by advisers that such a law would leave Israel liable to charges in the international court, tried to get Ms Regev to drop her proposal but, when she refused, ordered the Likud’s ministers on the committee to vote against it.
The outposts are just one item on a list of issues holding up a renewal of peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
Mr Mofaz, now the Vice-Prime Minister, proposed in 2009 a comprehensive peace plan that included establishing an interim Palestinian on the Gaza Strip and 60 per cent of the West Bank within a year, and then negotiating a permanent settlement.
A close adviser to Mr Mofaz said this week: “The plan is not part of the new coalition’s official policy, since there are other member-parties and parts of the Likud which are opposed, although Netanyahu is well aware of it, as are senior officials in the PA and the US administration. President Obama’s last speech on the Palestinian issue included similar details. As a member of the innermost forums dealing with diplomatic issues, Mofaz will try to push his plan’s principles.”
On Saturday night, Mr Netanyahu’s personal representative, Yakov Molho, delivered a letter from the Prime Minister to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
The letter was the answer to a previous Palestinian letter detailing Mr Mr Abbas’s demands, which included a full freeze on all settlement building in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and an Israeli commitment to negotiating on the basis of the pre-1967 borders.
In his letter, Mr Netanyahu reiterated that he is prepared to immediately re-enter negotiations on all issues without any preconditions.