Kadima left the national-unity coalition and its leader Shaul Mofaz resigned from the government on Tuesday night after he and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu were unable to agree on a bill to replace the “Tal Law.”
In a stormy meeting at the party’s Petah Tikva headquarters, the Kadima faction decided to leave by vote of 25 to three.
Mofaz’s resignation will take effect on Thursday night, 73 days after he was sworn in as vice premier.
In his resignation letter, Mofaz blasted Netanyahu for preferring the haredi parties in his coalition over Kadima and accused him of a lack of leadership. Mofaz vowed to return to the opposition and restore the public’s faith in Kadima.
“I left no stone unturned to stay in the government and reach a compromise, even though it meant paying a steep political price, but there were red lines I was not ready to cross,” Mofaz told reporters after the meeting. “I had hoped that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu would go beyond petty politics and make a historic decision together with us.
“But unfortunately behind the scenes, he said that what he publicly accepted would never be implemented. At any decision-making point, the prime minister decided to stand put rather than go forward and chose the interests of the minority over that of the majority.”
According to Mofaz, Netanyahu offered a bill in which half of haredi men would enlist at age 18-23 and the other half would perform civilian service at ages 23-26. The Kadima leader said Netanyahu’s offer only “paid lip service” to the concept of equal service.
The prime minister responded in a letter to Mofaz that for change to happen it must be done gradually without causing a rift in society.
Netanyahu’s associates said Mofaz made up his mind to leave long ago and even if the prime minister would have proposed drafting every yeshiva student at 18, Kadima would have said no.
“I am sorry you decided to give up on a chance to make a historic change,” Netanyahu wrote Mofaz.
“After 64 years [of statehood], we were close to an [agreement] that would have equalized the burden of IDF service. I will continue working for the responsible solution that Israeli society expects.”
Likud is considering bringing its own proposal for drafting yeshiva students to a vote before the Knesset begins its summer recess next Wednesday. Unless a proposal is passed by the High Court of Justice’s August 1 deadline, the Defense Ministry will be free to draft every yeshiva student.
A source in the Shas Party said the current situation was the worst possible outcome for the haredi community.
“If a new law is not approved by August 1, which seems very likely, it will be the first time since the early years of the state that there won’t be a legal framework for yeshiva students to remain in fulltime study,” he said “This is very worrying for us, because the state is a country with the rule of law, and on August 1 the decision on whether to draft the haredim and how to do that will rest, legally, in the hands of the defense minister, which will be very problematic,” the source added.
But Defense Minister Ehud Barak released a statement saying his ministry would issue a directive increasing the number of yeshiva students who would be drafted but not enlisting all of them. The Defense Ministry will tell the court to hold off on requiring universal service until new legislation will be ready within three months.
Former Kadima chairwoman Tzipi Livni celebrated Kadima’s departure from the government at a political rally in Jerusalem. She declined to attack Mofaz, who defeated her in the party leadership race four months ago, but she said her decision to stay out of Netanyahu’s government had been validated.
“A partnership born in sin is over and it is good that it is over,” Livni said. “There is no longer a fig leaf that can cover this government’s moral failures. Now it is clear that the values that we led the party with over the past few years were proven correct. I said nothing good would come out of joining a coalition with Netanyahu’s natural partners that would abandon those who serve and social justice, and prevent there from being a peace process.”
The only MKs in Kadima who voted to remain in the government were Avi Dichter, Otniel Schneller and Yulia Shamolov Berkovich. Former minister Tzahi Hanegbi sparred with Mofaz in an unsuccessful attempt to get him to stay in the government.
Dichter, Yisrael Hasson and Hanegbi were candidates to replace Home Front Defense Minister Matan Vilna’i, who accepted a post as ambassador to China.
Dichter gave an impassioned speech in the faction meeting against leaving the coalition, telling Mofaz that “as a former IDF chief of staff, you should know not to stop an attack in the middle. Millions of Israelis are waiting for this bill and you don’t have the courage to do anything. Talks [on replacing the Tal Law] should end on July 31 [when the law expires], not one day before.”
Contrary to reports on Tuesday night that several MKs would break off from the party to stay in the coalition, the parliamentarians reportedly involved in the move said they would remain in Kadima – at least for now.
“Whom would I go with?” Schneller asked. “There’s no use in talking about it.”
A Kadima source said there were more than the requisite seven MKs necessary to break of from the party, but they “still aren’t organized.” The same source called some of those lawmakers “Netanyahu’s arms in Kadima.”
MK Meir Sheetrit, who has called for Kadima to leave the coalition for weeks, said the move gave the party “hope for rehabilitation.”
“When we joined the coalition, I said that Netanyahu won’t help pass a mandatory service bill, but Mofaz said he had to try to go the extra mile. Maybe the tactic was right,” Sheetrit shrugged, adding that he would bring a bill on the subject to a preliminary vote in the Knesset on Wednesday.
Opposition leader Shelly Yechimovich – who will lose that position when Mofaz’s resignation takes effect – called for immediate elections, following Kadima’s “embarrassing and pathetic” time in the coalition.
“The past two months was one of the most embarrassing times in Israeli politics, in which the world of values and ideology were erased and only politics and survival attempts remained,” said Yechimovich, who is also chairwoman of the Labor Party.
MK Danny Danon (Likud) said, “Kadima is a political corpse that will soon disappear from the pages of history.
The trendy, values-lacking party harms the citizens of Israel once again, in an attempt to survive in the political arena.”
“Goodbye Kadima, and I hope not to see you later,” MK Ofir Akunis (Likud) quipped. “Too bad that instead of behaving responsibly to reach equality in the burden of service, Kadima preferred to create divisions in the public in order to try to survive among left-wing parties.”
Energy and Water Minister Uzi Landau (Yisrael Beytenu) said Kadima’s departure did not end the battle for equality in the burden of service, and called for Kadima MKs to vote for his party’s bill on the issue, which will be brought to a preliminary vote on Wednesday.
Jeremy Sharon contributed to this report.