Mofaz threatens to quit gov't over Keshev C'tee

Warning follows Netanyahu's announcement that he is canceling c'tee charged with increasing haredi enlistment in the IDF.

Mofaz and Netanyahu at cabinet meeting 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Mofaz and Netanyahu at cabinet meeting 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The national unity government formed by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Kadima chairman Shaul Mofaz less than two months ago could break up as early as Wednesday if a solution is not found to their dispute over how to equalize the burden of IDF service.
Kadima MK Yohanan Plesner, who heads the Keshev Committee – tasked with finding a replacement for the “Tal Law” – intends to publish recommendations he promised would be historic on Wednesday, despite Netanyahu announcing that the committee has been dismantled.
Mofaz backed up Plesner and issued his strongest threat ever to leave Netanyahu’s coalition.
“The committee was formed by Kadima and Likud together, and its unilateral dissolution by the prime minister does not obligate Kadima,” Mofaz said. “If the prime minister does not go in the right direction, the national unity government will end.”
Netanyahu angered Mofaz when he released a statement announcing that the Keshev Committee had been scrapped moments after Mofaz praised the committee’s work at a Knesset press conference. In a brief conversation before the press conference, the prime minister asked Mofaz to help him dismantle the committee but Mofaz said no.
“We knew Netanyahu would try any political maneuver to prevent the committee’s findings from being published,” a source close to Mofaz said.
“Netanyahu has tried to torpedo the committee from day one.”
Sources close to the prime minister countered by saying that Yisrael Beytenu, Habayit Hayehudi and haredi representative Jacob Weinroth leaving the committee over the past week removed its legitimacy and any chance of its findings passing in the Knesset. They said it would be better for Netanyahu to start over, meet with all the parties in the coalition personally and help them find common ground.
In his statement, Netanyahu warned the haredim that if a compromise is not reached by August 1, when the Supreme Court ruled the Tal Law will be canceled, the IDF will be free to begin drafting yeshiva students.
“I am obligated to find a way to more equally distribute the burden of service,” Netanyahu said. “Even before the High Court ruling, I declared that I would work to equalize the burden in a defined manner in the haredi and Arab sectors, without pitting public against public. That was and remains my stance.”
Both President Shimon Peres and Defense Minister Ehud Barak offered to mediate between Netanyahu and Mofaz in order to keep the coalition together and reach a compromise on how to equalize the burden. Barak called upon them to leave the IDF out of their political dispute and settle their differences responsibly.
Plesner reacted with outrage to Netanyahu’s decision to dismantle his committee.
In a hastily called Knesset press conference, he accused the prime minister of “fleeing from what the public wants.”
He said his committee met for hundreds of hours, held dozens of meetings, heard dozens of experts, performed very exhaustive staff work and met with the IDF and every relevant government ministry in order to do the most comprehensive work in Israel’s history on the issue of equalizing the burden.
“I don’t want to create unnecessary drama, but in two days, things will shift to the political field where decisions are made,” Plesner said. “Our recommendations are the only game in town. The prime minister has no majority to pass any proposal except ours.”
Coalition chairman Ze’ev Elkin (Likud) responded by calling Plesner’s intention to submit his committee’s findings despite Netanyahu’s opposition “pathetic” and said the committee had lost its legitimacy.
Haredi MKs blasted Netanyahu’s handling of the situation.
United Torah Judaism leader Ya’acov Litzman said dismantling the Keshev Committee proved that from the start the sole purpose of the committee was to harm the ultra-Orthodox.
“The prime minister must honor the coalition agreement as it is written and pass in the Knesset a law that will allow the continuing existence of the world of the Torah and the preservation of the status of Torah scholars,” UTJ said in a statement.
A Shas spokesman expressed disappointment that instead of reaching common ground, Netanyahu chose to submit an ultimatum about drafting yeshiva students on August 1, which the party said would lead to a rift in the Jewish people.
“The disintegration of the Plesner committee is further proof that the establishment of the committee in its current form was a mistake,” Shas said. “The only solution it sought was political prostitution. The committee did not understand the importance and complexity of the issue it deliberated on and established its goals before any hearings took place. The importance of this issue requires the establishment of a serious and businesslike committee which will hold impartial hearings.”
MK Nitzan Horowitz (Meretz) condemned the prime minister for dismantling the Keshev Committee, saying it “proves once again that Netanyahu is submitting to haredim and has no intention of equalizing the public burden.”
Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid said Netanyahu never really intended to solve the problem, only to stall for time and trick the public.
“Netanyahu is once again choosing his natural partners, the haredim, over the majority of the public that serves in the army, pays taxes and barely gets by,” he said.
Daniel Clinton, Yoni Dayan and Jeremy Sharon contributed to this report.