Mini-rebellion erupts in Kadima as Labor seeks to dissolve Knesset
Netanyahu and Mofaz to meet in a last-ditch effort to resolve their dispute over the Plesner Committee and prevent Kadima from quitting the coalition.
The Labor Party decided to submit a bill to dissolve the Knesset and call for early elections. The exact date when the bill will be brought to a vote wasn't disclosed but party officials said, "We are placing the pistol on the table and waiting for the opportune political constellation."
Labor Party leader Shelly Yachimovich urged Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to call for early elections immediately. According to her, "The elections were supposed to be held during September, and this natural course of events was thwarted by a cynical political maneuver on the part of the Likud and Kadima, which created a giant coalition that is unable to achieve a thing - including an agreement on the Tal Law. The public should be given the opportunity to choose between the Likud and Netanyahu and the Labor Party and myself in an election, she said.
Netanyahu and Kadima chief Shaul Mofaz are expected to meet on Wednesday in a last-ditch effort to resolve their dispute over the Plesner Committee and prevent Kadima from quitting the coalition.
The committee, chaired by Kadima MK Yohanan Plesner, was appointed to draft legislation requiring ultra-Orthodox Jews and Israeli Arabs to do either military or civilian national service. Earlier this week, Netanyahu decided to disband the panel because most coalition parties have lost faith in it.
Still, the committee is expected to unveil the bill it prepared at 10 A.M. on Wednesday, and Mofaz has made it clear he will not accept any other proposal as the basis for new legislation on the subject.
New legislation is required because the Tal Law, which governs the existing system of Haredi draft exemptions, was ruled unconstitutional by the High Court of Justice and expires on August 1.
The Netanyahu-Mofaz meeting will take place sometime after the Plesner Committee unveils its proposal. So far, however, no resolution to the crisis is in sight, despite feverish efforts all day on Tuesday to draft a compromise. Defense Minister Ehud Barak (Atzmaut ), coalition chairman MK Zeev Elkin (Likud ) and Netanyahu's former bureau chief, Natan Eshel, all worked hard to forge a compromise.
Kadima sources said Mofaz is not willing to begin serious negotiations until after the committee has presented its bill, and will also not allow the talks to drag out for more than a few days.
"Netanyahu must rescind his statement that the committee is irrelevant," said one source. "As far as we're concerned, the main work has already been done."
But the bill prepared by the Plesner Committee has outraged four of Netanyahu's other five coalition partners: Yisrael Beiteinu, Habayit Hayehudi, and the two Haredi parties, Shas and United Torah Judaism. The Haredi parties are upset by its proposal to impose financial penalties on ultra-Orthodox men who refuse to serve, while the other parties are upset that it proposes a much more gradual process for instituting service by Israeli Arabs than it does for Haredim.
Foreign Minister and Yisrael Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Lieberman, who pulled his party out of the committee last week, said on Tuesday that he believes the coalition can craft a different bill that would equalize the burden of service completely. "We have a historic opportunity here - there's a majority in the Knesset, the public and the media for changing the draft [system]," he said. "Therefore, we won't compromise on a partial solution."
Lieberman wants all Arabs of draft age - some 30,000 people in all - to be required to do military or civilian service. The Plesner Committee, however, proposes a much lower initial target. The bill then instructs the government to prepare a new proposal by September for expanding this target.
While Lieberman insisted that the differences among the coalition parties are minor, Kadima sources said the gaps were wide.