Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Kadima leader, vice premier Shaul Mofaz met yesterday evening in an attempt to settle the dispute over how to equalise the burden of military service in Israel. The meeting comes after vice premier Moshe Ya’alon and MK Yohanan Plesner, the respective representatives on the issue for each party, failed to reach an agreement by yesterday’s deadline.
According to sources close to Mofaz, cited across the Israeli media this morning, at the meeting with Netanyahu yesterday there was neither a breakthrough nor a breakdown. “In all negotiations, there are moments of tension, like what has happened today,” Mofaz said in a speech to 150 yeshiva students in Jerusalem following his meeting with the prime minister. The Kadima chair also hinted that an ultimatum was presented to the PM: “At the moment we’re discussing the actual text of the bill and we’re making progress. But if we don’t come to an agreement, we won’t be partners in the coalition.”
At a hastily called meeting of the Kadima faction, Mofaz received authorisation to decide on his own whether the party should quit the coalition as early as this weekend. Several MKs have urged him to leave immediately, but he has decided to meet Netanyahu a second time, most likely this evening.
The main dispute between Likud and Kadima is over whether there should be quotas limiting the number of yeshiva students permitted to avoid the draft, as Kadima demands, or merely setting targets for the number of haredim drafted, which the Likud prefers. The parties also disagree on the final age at which service could be avoided and the extent of sanctions against draft evaders.
“We support financial sanctions but oppose criminal sanctions,” a source close to Netanyahu told the Jerusalem Post. “In a Jewish state, no one will go to prison for studying Torah.”
Concurrently, Ya’alon and Plesner will be continuing their negotiations today over the wording of a new law for drafting ultra-orthodox and Israeli Arabs. But, both sides ahead of the meeting have expressed doubt that the crisis can be resolved. If the two sides fail to reach a compromise, it is likely that Kadima’s 28 MKs will leave the coalition, and the Defence Ministry will issue a directive refraining from arresting 18-year-olds who do not go to the army immediately when the “Tal Law” that facilitated exemptions from service expires on 31 July. Meanwhile, efforts to draft a new law would continue over the summer.