Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will today begin talks with his coalition partners in an effort to forge compromise legislation governing military and civilian national service by ultra-Orthodox Jews and Israeli Arabs.
Netanyahu announced yesterday evening that he accepts some of the principles proposed by the Plesner Committee, which he established to draft such legislation, but then disbanded last week after several of his coalition partners said they had lost faith in it. However, Kadima chairman Shaul Mofaz has already stated that his party demands that the Plesner recommendations be accepted in full. Party sources speaking to Haaretz declined to indicate whether Netanyahu’s partial acceptance of the panel’s work would be sufficient enough to allow Kadima to remain in the governing coalition.
“We are on the brink of a historic change in Israeli society,” Netanyahu said yesterday. “The existing situation cannot continue. The Haredim (ultra-Orthodox) must be integrated into military service. They and Israeli Arabs must also be integrated into civilian service.” The Plesner recommendations, he said, “contain important principles in this direction, but a more thorough approach toward integrating Arabs into civilian service is needed.”
Netanyahu added that he plans to submit legislation that will apply to both Arabs and Haredim. “I’m determined to bring about a dramatic increase in the proportion who share the burden [of service] among Haredim and Arabs alike,” he said. “We will no longer permit the situation of those who don’t serve to be equal to that of those who do. Draft-dodgers won’t get what those who serve do.”
Mofaz expressed disappointment with Netanyahu’s statement, saying that it “avoids accepting the principles of the [Plesner] committee on equality in the national service draft, and clear statements of service for all.” Mofaz added the two issues over which he would not compromise are a significant increase in the number of Haredim doing military service and the imposition of penalties on those who do not do any form of service. The latter is, however, a red flag for Netanyahu’s two Haredi coalition partners, Shas and United Torah Judaism.
Kadima will make a final decision on whether to quit the coalition “within days,” Mofaz added. Other party sources said the deadline would be the Kadima faction meeting on Monday afternoon.
On Saturday night, organisations calling for equal sharing of the burden will demonstrate in Tel Aviv. Former Mossad chief Meir Dagan, who heads an NGO proposing equal military and civilian service will speak at the rally.