Netanyahu: Knesset, Not Cabinet, Will Decide Fate of Tal Law

Ehud Barak says his ministry is preparing an alternative to the Tal Law, which is due to expire in six months.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided on Thursday to bring the Tal Law to the Knesset plenum instead of Sunday's cabinet session, in a bid to avoid a confrontation with his senior coalition partners. The decision comes amid a growing social protest against extending the law, which allows full-time yeshiva students to defer military service.

Last week Netanyahu said the cabinet would vote on extending the Tal Law on Sunday by five years. But following strong objections from Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, the prime minister reneged on Thursday and said he would let the Knesset plenum determine the issue.

Barak said his ministry was preparing an alternative to the Tal Law, which is due to expire in six months.

The chairman of the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Shaul Mofaz, who also objects to extending the law, said the committee would advance a proposal to replace it.

The Tal Law itself says the Knesset must begin discussing whether to extend it at least six months before it expires in August 2012, so discussion must begin no later than February 1 if the legislators want to preserve the option of extending it.

Meanwhile, dozens of IDF reserve soldiers on Thursday put up what they called "the suckers' camp" near the Tel Aviv Savidor Central Railway Station, to protest the possible extension of the Tal Law. Several politicians, public figures, disabled IDF veterans and high school and university students visited the protest encampment.

Boaz Nol, who organized the protest, said "in Israel everyone has to serve, whether in the IDF or in national service. The Tal Law is contradictory to everything we are and to who we are. It is contrary to the values of service, equality and sharing the burden."

Idan Miller, one of the leaders the political movement formed after last summer's social protest, said the activists are now organizing public campaigns over economic, consumer and social-political issues.

"The state needs the Arabs and ultra-Orthodox to serve [in the army] and the debate on the law is far from over," said Miller. "The prime minister folded following the protest, but putting off the debate is only a tactic."

The protest against extending the Tal Law is one step on the way, the protesters said, collecting hundreds of signatures from passersby in support of their cause.

Opposition head MK Tzipi Livni, who met with the protesters, said "social justice begins with sharing the burden and military, national or civic service."