Knesset Passes First Readings of Bills on Improving Terms for Reservists

The Knesset approved two separate bills regarding reserves soldiers yesterday. The government's version passed its first reading in the plenum, and another version by the reservists' lobby passed a preliminary reading.

Both bills propose employing reservists, and advocate generous financial reimbursement for a fraction of the men currently serving in the reserves, exempting the rest. Officials in the Defense Ministry are far from thrilled about the idea, but do not oppose it either. "We don't endorse it, but we accept it," they told Haaretz.

Only 90,000 reservists serve more than one week each year, Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh, who submitted the government's bill, told the Knesset yesterday. Sneh supported giving as many perks as possible to that select group of reservists.

Both Sneh's bill and the one submitted by Meretz MK Avshalom Vilan on behalf of the reservists lobby share the same vision, but differ on how to achieve it. Both Sneh and Vilan hope to work out the differences during Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee discussions.

The previous Knesset saw a similar attempt. It too passed two separate bills regarding reservists, one private and the other governmental. Both bills would have exempted reservists from operational duty, and mandated that they be called in only for training. These bills followed the conclusions of the Braverman Committee, headed by MK Avishay Braverman and attended by then-deputy chief-of-staff Dan Halutz. However, the previous Knesset's term ended before the conclusions could be implemented.

The new bills mark a departure from the conclusions of the Braverman Committee by agreeing to allow reservists to be called for operational duty every three years. This would constitute an improvement in terms for reservists, since they are currently eligible for operational duty throughout their service.

But even this partial improvement in terms is not expected to go into effect before 2010. Sneh says this delay in implementation is a result of the need for increased training following the findings of the Winograd Committee on the Second Lebanon War. The reservists lobby is expected to refuse to accept this delay.

In addition, both bills propose to limit the number of days reservists may be mobilized: The government's bill sets the quota at 54 days every three years. The private bill puts it at 42.

The private bill also deals with financial reimbursement for reservists. If the bill is passed, NIS 300 to 600 million may be budgeted for this purpose. In contrast, the government's bill does not specify how much should be set aside to pay reservists.

Vilan said he was disappointed the bills have not generated much public discussion. "We're talking about restricting reserves duty to 5 percent of the population. This should be discussed at length, and not only in the Knesset."