Netanyahu Meets Mofaz to Resolve Crisis Surrounding ultra-Orthodox Enlistment

PM making efforts to bridge coalition leaders and form a new bill on drafting ultra-Orthodox men to the army.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with Kadima Chairman Shaul Mofaz on Thursday to discuss the outline of a new ultra-Orthodox enlistment bill and resolve the recent political crisis that erupted as a result of disagreements on the issue.

At the end of the hour-long meeting between the two, Netanyahu and Mofaz refused to disclose details of the talks.

Prior to the meeting with Mofaz, Netanyahu met with Yisrael Beiteinu chairman and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. Following the meeting, Lieberman said, "We don't accept the recommendations made by the Plesner Committee. I demand that everyone must enlist, even the Israeli Arabs, at the age of 18."

The Plesner committee was appointed by Netanyahu as part of a deal with Kadima to join the premier's coalition. The committee was charged with forming a new law on drafting ultra-Orthodox men to the Israel Defense Forces to replace the previous arrangement, so-called Tal Law, which was defined unconstitutional by Israel's High Court.

Netanyahu ordered the disbandment of the state-sanctioned committee due to disagreements among its members. The meetings held by Netanyahu are a part of the attempts made by the prime minister's bureau to formulate a bill which will include a part of Plesner Committee's report.

"We are on the brink of a historic change in Israeli society," Netanyahu said on Wednesday. "The existing situation cannot continue. The Haredim (ultra-Orthodox) must be integrated into military service. They and Israeli Arabs must also be integrated into civilian service."

As for the Plesner recommendations, Netanyahu said, they "contain important principles in this direction, but a more thorough approach toward integrating Arabs into civilian service is needed." He thereby sided with two coalition partners, Yisrael Beiteinu and Habayit Hayehudi, whose main objection to the Plesner proposal was that it would have required only a minority of Arabs to do any form of service.

Mofaz expressed disappointed with Netanyahu's statement, and saying that it "avoids accepting the principles of the [Plesner] committee on equality in the national service draft, and clear statements of service for all."

"Integration of Israeli Arabs in the civil service should be based on the recommendations of the committee's report. The prime minister's statement evades the major challenge of fixing the illegality and injustice of the exemption of the ultra-Orthodox population [from conscription]. The citizens of Israel were expecting clear statements from the prime minister."

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