A new law governing military and national service could be just days away from completion, Vice Prime Minister Moshe Ya'alon said on Sunday, shortly after he was appointed head of a task force to draft the legislation.
Likud MKs voted unanimously on Sunday to accept Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's proposal to support the principles laid out by a committee headed by MK Yohanan Plesner (Kadima) on expanding the pool of conscripts. Netanyahu disbanded the committee in the wake of objections from the ultra-Orthodox, who had been largely exempt from conscription under the previous law, but he backtracked when his decision threatened to spark a coalition crisis and proved unpopular with the public.
Some 20,000 people attended a rally in Tel Aviv Saturday night to demand a universal draft that would include ultra-Orthodox Jews and Israeli Arabs.
Ya'alon, who was appointed to the task force by Netanyahu, met with Plesner for the first time on Sunday to discuss the new law. It is meant to replace the Tal Law, which the High Court of Justice has ruled unconstitutional and so cannot be renewed when it expires August 1.
"We have a historic opportunity before us on a matter that is like a bleeding wound in Israeli society - equality in the security, civil and economic realms," Ya'alon said before meeting with Plesner. "We plan, with due deliberation, to draft a law in the coming days that will express this historic moment while avoiding societal and national rifts."
Plesner said he hoped the law would be drafted within two days and brought before the Ministerial Committee for Legislation on Wednesday. It would then come before the MKs early next week.
Netanyahu also wants to see the matter settled by the end of the month, before the Tal Law expires and the Knesset begins its summer recess.
Idan Miller, who heads the pro-universal conscription group Hamahane Hameshutaf, said he was dubious but hopeful.
"As we already know, the prime minister changes his mind in the wake of public pressure, and he realizes that the participants [at the Saturday night rally] included a fair amount of his electorate, and that there's a demand that cuts across left and right," he said. "If he doesn't take a serious step and bring about the conscription of Haredim and then Arabs, his voters will settle their account with the prime minister in the future."
Not everyone agrees about what the law should entail. Plesner wants his suggestions - such as the guideline that 80 percent of draft-age ultra-Orthodox men should be performing military or national service by 2016 - to become law without any significant changes along the way, but the coalition is considering softening his proposals.
Some coalition members expressed doubt on Sunday over whether they would secure a majority. Yisrael Beiteinu says it plans to vote against the law because it doesn't resolve the issue of Israeli Arabs' conscription, though the Prime Minister's Office said it expects the party to abstain from voting or walk out of the vote rather than actively oppose the law.
Arab MKs will be waiting to see whether the new law takes on the Plesner approach of not going into detail on the possible conscription of Israeli Arabs or whether there is a significant change in the status quo, in which case, one said, it would "lead to a face-off." The Higher Arab Monitoring Committee will meet this week to discuss how to oppose any plans to draft Israeli Arabs, without getting into a confrontation with the right.
The ultra-Orthodox parties are expected to vote against the conscription law - and perhaps even to quit the coalition - because their constituents don't want to join the army. Even some members of Kadima, which has been a vocal supporter of such a law, said they would vote against it for being too lenient.
Under Plesner's recommendations, Haredim could defer service until 22, their military or national service would be 24 or 18 months (compared with the norm of three years for men ), and 1,500 yeshiva students a year would be granted a lifetime service exemption.
Jack Khoury and Gili Cohen contributed to this report.
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