Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Kadima leader Shaul Mofaz met late Thursday night in a last ditch effort to reach an agreement on equalizing the burden of IDF service and save the national-unity coalition.
Following the hour-and-a-half meeting, the two agreed that their representatives would continue talks Friday morning.
Earlier Thursday, the representatives they appointed to draft a bill equalizing national service, 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.
Kadima representatives canceled two meetings with Ya’alon, coalition chairman Ze’ev Elkin and Netanyahu’s attorney David Shimron set for Thursday night. A source close to Ya’alon said Plesner’s representatives called 10 minutes before a later meeting was set to begin and said they were canceling it unless the Likud agreed to relent on the maximum age haredim could be to avoid serving.
“Such a demand could have been made in the meeting and not in a threat,” the source said.
“They did the same earlier today [Thursday]. All of their behavior over the past three days proves that they don’t want to reach a deal and that all they care about is politics. They don’t want to solve the problem; they want to go to war.”
A source close to Mofaz said Ya’alon’s version of events was incorrect and he was misleading the public. Plesner was not expected to attend the meeting because his daughters were unwell. His absence was seen by Likud officials as a blessing, as they blame 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 said that he would not respond to personal attacks and that the Kadima MK 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 MKs to 66.
“We have a very large and stable coalition, but 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 on Thursday.
He said that in the coming days, the disagreement between the two parties over the best way to draft Israeli Arabs and the ultra- Orthodox 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 was pending.
Ya’alon explained that the differences boiled down to two approaches.
He has proposed a gradual draft, in which the number of haredim 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 did 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 existed from age 18 to 26.
Lahav Harkov and JPost.com staff contributed to this report.