Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Kadima leader Shaul Mofaz will meet over the weekend in a last-ditch effort to reach an agreement on equalizing the burden of IDF service and save their national-unity government.
The two leaders did not meet Thursday while the representatives they appointed to draft a new universal service bill, Vice Premier Moshe Ya'alon (Likud) and MK Yohanan Plesner (Kadima) continued to bicker over whether there should be quotas limiting the number of yeshiva students permitted to avoid the draft and what sanctions should be taken against evaders.
Ya'alon, coalition chairman Ze'ev Elkin, and Netanyahu's attorney David Shimron met late Thursday night with Kadima legal adviser Sa'ar Pinto and the director of Plesner's Keshev Committee, Aviad Friedman. Plesner was not expected to attend because his daughters were unwell.
Plesner's absence was seen by Likud officials as a blessing. They blamed him for the lack of success in the talks so far.
"If someone else from Kadima, would have negotiated with me, I am sure a solution would have been found by now," Ya'alon said. "From the beginning, Plesner came to fight, not to make a deal."
Plesner's spokeswoman responded that he would not respond to personal attacks and that Plesner was continuing to try to find the middle ground.
Ya'alon said Netanyahu’s government would survive if Kadima opted to leave. The coalition would fall back from 94 seats to 66.
“We have a very large and stable coalition, but it might be that the Tal legislation might create a crisis in the coalition between us and Kadima,” Ya’alon said at a Jerusalem conference organized by The Israel Project.
He said that in the coming days, the disagreement between the two parties over the best way to draft ultra-Orthodox and Israeli Arabs into the IDF, “might create a crisis in which the coalition will be smaller, but we can survive.”
Ya'alon said the two sides may not be able to reach an agreement by the Supreme Court's August 1 deadline, in which case the Defense Ministry could legally draft every yeshiva student but would decide not to while a solution is pending.
Ya’alon explained that the differences boiled down to two approaches. His proposal of a gradual draft, in which the number of ultra-Orthodox drafted into the IDF would increase every year. Plesner, he said, wanted a target date of 2016, by which the draft would be mandatory for all ultra-Orthodox who do not have student exemptions.
“I support doing it gradually by having quotas from year to year,” he said, suggesting staggered options for entering the IDF at different ages, so that possibility exists from age 18 to 26.
“The other way is to put a deadline of 2016, by which all the ultra-Orthodox youngsters will either be recognized as students or forced to serve,” he said.
“I believe [the 2016 option] it is too much. When we talk about sanctions for those who will not be ready to be drafted into the military in 2016 and will be imprisoned, for them it is like declaring war.”
Ya’alon said there has been a gradual increase in the number of ultra-Orthodox who enter the army, from 300 in 2007 to 2,400 last year. He added that he would like to see that number hit 6,000 by 2016.
Similarly, he said, the number of Israeli Arabs who participate in a civil service options has also increased from zero to 2,000 last year. In the new legislation 5,000 Israeli Arabs would be drafted into civil service by 2016.
Ya’alon said he found such increases encouraging.
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Lahav Harkov contributed to this report