Kadima’s departure from the governing coalition looks likely after attempts to reach a compromise on a bill to draft the ultra-Orthodox broke down on Wednesday, sources in both Kadima and Likud said.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Kadima chief Shaul Mofaz met late Thursday night to discuss the issue.
The two will make a last-ditch effort to reach a deal over the weekend, and Defense Minister Ehud Barak (Atzmaut) says he will try to mediate. But with associates of both parties’ chief negotiators busy slinging mud, neither side sounds optimistic.
“We haven’t yet bridged the gaps with Kadima, and I’m very pessimistic about us doing so during the current Knesset session,” said Likud’s negotiator, Vice Prime Minister Moshe Ya’alon.
Mofaz has threatened that if a mutually acceptable compromise is not presented to the cabinet on Sunday, his party will leave the government. On Wednesday, his Knesset faction authorized him to make this decision on his own. But Ya’alon said that if Kadima quits, the remaining coalition partners could reach agreement on a bill within a few months.
“I believe we’ll be able to see where things are going in the next few days, and maybe the coalition will shrink,” he said. “But we’ll survive it. In that case, a new political game would begin. So all options remain not only on the table, but in the air.”
The conflict between Ya’alon and Kadima’s chief negotiator, MK Yohanan Plesner, escalated yesterday, with Likud sources accusing Plesner of deliberately trying to create a crisis.
“Mr. Plesner wants this to be war. He wants to quarrel,” said one. “His behavior is embarrassing. He yells, gets up, walks out and returns. He doesn’t act like a Knesset member who came to advance an issue, but like someone who came to make trouble. He came to quarrel and mislead the public.”
Plesner’s associates countered by accusing the vice prime minister’s people of “low blows,” adding that Plesner was particularly infuriated when word leaked to the media that he had canceled a meeting because his daughters were ill.
"Instead of focusing on the real issues, Ya’alon and Netanyahu’s circle is hurling personal accusations at Plesner,” a Kadima source complained.
The Likud sources supported their charges by presenting a document Plesner had written in January. In it, he favored leaving the Tal Law, which legalized draft deferrals for ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students, largely intact, proposing only a few changes. Now he favors drafting the vast majority of Haredi men and penalizing those who don’t serve.
Since January, a major change has occurred: The High Court of Justice ruled the Tal Law unconstitutional, which is what prompted the current effort to enact new legislation. But the website Nana10 revealed yesterday that just two months ago, Plesner submitted a bill very similar to Ya’alon’s current proposal − which he now adamantly rejects.
The bill proposed allowing Haredim to defer service until age 26 and increasing the number who do serve only gradually, just as Ya’alon proposes now. But Plesner currently insists that Haredim be allowed to defer service only until age 22, and that most be drafted immediately.
Since the High Court gave the government only until August 1 to produce new legislation, tens of thousands of Haredi draft deferrals will be automatically invalidated if no new law is passed by then.
But even if that happens, no one in the coalition thinks these men will actually be drafted; the court will not force the army to send out draft notices immediately, so the government will have more time to propose legislation, coalition sources said. And it will eventually do so, because its member parties don’t have an interest in calling elections now, the sources predicted.
Ya’alon outlined his own proposed bill to foreign diplomats and journalists yesterday, at a briefing in Jerusalem organized by the Israel Project. The data on Haredi conscription are very encouraging, he said, with almost 2,400 Haredim entering the army last year.
Last year saw a 6 percent increase in the number of Haredim who work, he added, and if both trends continue, the Haredim will gradually integrate on their own. He therefore favors a gradual approach to drafting yeshiva students, proposing a fairly modest target of 6,000 draftees in 2017.
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