Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says he does not intend to adopt in full the new bill formulated by MK Yohanan Plesner ‏(Kadima‏) on conscription for the ultra-Orthodox. Speaking over the weekend, Netanyahu said he instead supports the alternative bill presented by Vice Prime Minister Moshe Ya’alon ‏(Likud‏).

In conversations with Likud ministers, Netanyahu said: “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. We can go for a historic move regarding equality in bearing the burden, but we can’t resolve it all in one move.”

Likud officials said yesterday they believed that they could get Kadima to back down from its position on the bill. That is because it emerged over the weekend that Plesner had worded a bill on army service for Haredim, a week after his Kadima party joined the coalition in May, which was similar to the formula Ya’alon is now proposing. Plesner says he vehemently opposes Ya’alon’s plan.

The existence of Plesner’s May proposal was revealed by the news website Nana 10.
According to Ya’alon’s bill, the ultra-Orthodox could defer service until age 26. However, Plesner’s wording from his May bill says the same thing: “The defense minister may postpone for one year the drafting of a candidate for military service for purposes of study of the Jewish religion. He may postpone the candidate’s service for additional periods of one year each, as long as the sum total of the periods does not exceed eight years − in other words, from ages 18 to 26.

But the bill produced by the committee Plesner headed allowed for deferment of service only until age 22. After that, a yeshiva student would have to choose between national civilian service and military service. According to the Plesner committee’s bill, the defense minister could exempt from Israel Defense Forces service exceptionally bright students − known in Jewish tradition as iluim.

Plesner’s proposal from two months ago also sets milestones for the drafting of the ultra-Orthodox. “The defense minister will formulate regulations within three months of the drafting of this law, quantitative goals for the draft and for national civilian service, so that within five years from the passing of the law, it will be applied in full.”

Ya’alon’s proposal states that the full draft of the ultra-Orthodox will be completed by 2016.

Meanwhile, the deadline set by Vice Prime Minister Shaul Mofaz for a Kadima-Likud agreement on a new bill governing the drafting of the ultra-Orthodox expires this morning, although Likud and Kadima will apparently continue talks on the matter for a few more days.

Talks are to continue despite Mofaz’s adamant setting of this morning’s deadline, unless the parties feel they have come to a dead end in order to “maximize the chances of formulating a bill.”

On Wednesday, Mofaz told his Knesset faction in an emergency meeting: “If we do not present a bill and a proposal by decision makers to the cabinet meeting, we will not be able to continue in this partnership.” Mofaz also told his fellow parliamentarians: “We will not accept an ‘as if’ bill, with no means of enforcement ... the timetables are known.”

Plesner said yesterday he believed his party would give talks another chance. “We have still not given up on the possibility that Netanyahu will make the right decision one day soon,” he said.

The need for a new law governing the drafting of the ultra-Orthodox arose when the High Court of Justice declared the Tal Law − which had exempted the ultra-Orthodox from military service − unconstitutional. The Tal Law cannot be extended beyond the end of this month.

In order for a new bill to pass before the Tal Law expires, it must begin to make its way through the legislative process in the coming days. One possibility now under consideration is to complete the writing of the law by Tuesday. If the parties meet this deadline, the cabinet can be called on the same day to approve the bill and present it to the Knesset for a preliminary reading on Wednesday.

Over the weekend, discussions between Plesner and Ya’alon moved to the level of legal advisers: David Shamron, a close associate of the prime minister, for Likud; and Alon Gelert, a Mofaz adviser, for Kadima.

Likud officials said yesterday that the talks by the legal advisers were meant as an end-run around Plesner. “Ya’alon and Plesner could not formulate a bill together. Plesner turned out to be one of the obstacles to a joint formulation, because of the serious objections he raised,” an official said.

Plesner continued yesterday to deride Netanyahu’s efforts to devise a bill that would be acceptable to the ultra-Orthodox. Speaking at a current affairs event in Givatayim, Plesner said: “The prime minister has to make a decision that has long-ranging implications for Israeli society and the future of the IDF and the economy. If he continues his support for the Likud-Shas outline, which preserves the status quo and by which the obligation to serve in the IDF does not apply to ultra-Orthodox men, it will be difficult to prevent the trend toward the collapse of the model of a people’s army and the value of service. On the other hand, he has the opportunity to adopt the outline that we present, based on every citizen fulfilling the obligation to serve.”