PM works to end coalition’s first crisis

Lapid threatens to leave gov't over criminal sanctions on haredi draft dodgers; Ya'alon: We will find a compromise, draft legislation.

By GIL STERN STERN HOFFMAN
May 27, 2013 22:11
3 minute read.
Yair Lapid at cabinet meeting, 20 May 2013.

Yair Lapid at Cabinet Meeting, looking official 370. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)

 
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Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu took steps to bridge gaps with Yesh Atid on how to punish haredi draft dodgers Monday night in an effort to resolve the first crisis of the coalition he formed two months ago.

The crisis began in the middle of Sunday night when Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid instructed Science, Technology, and Space Minister Yaakov Peri to halt proceedings of the committee entrusted with equalizing the burden of service. The crisis intensified with threats from Lapid to leave the coalition, but by Monday night it appeared a solution was in reach and would be initiated as early as Tuesday.

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“I have no doubt that we will succeed in finding a compromise with Yesh Atid that will enable us to complete drafting the legislation,” Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon told The Jerusalem Post late Monday night following a conversation in which Netanyahu urged him not to delay the bill.

Ya’alon denied reports that Netanyahu had urged him to concede to Lapid and vote for criminal sanctions on haredi draft dodgers.

The reports said such a step would be a tactical move until legislation could be watered down later on.

At a meeting of the Likud faction, Transportation Minister Israel Katz led Likud MKs in criticizing Ya’alon for allowing Lapid to score political points at Likud’s expense. Likud ministers privately accused Ya’alon of sacrificing the party to kowtow to the haredi sector that could help him as an expected future prime ministerial candidate.

Netanyahu mocked the crisis at the meeting, referring to it as a “virtual crisis.”



Coalition chairman Yariv Levin denounced the dispute as political spin intended to distract the public from the value-added tax increase that passed in the Finance Committee Monday at the behest of the Lapid-led Finance Ministry.

“After 65 years, we are before a historic change that will lead to significant progress toward equalizing the burden,” Netanyahu said. “Until the law is implemented, there will be many crises and headlines, real and fictional. I am certain we can find solutions for the few clauses that have remained open. There will be a law.”

But Lapid sounded very serious at his faction meeting, calling upon the Likud to stop playing games that could prevent a historic injustice from being fixed. He accused the Likud of trying to torpedo the Peri Committee to find favor with haredim.

“Service will be equalized or the government will come apart,” Lapid said. “If someone thinks I entered politics just to fix the economic catastrophe that the last government left us, they don’t understand what we are doing here. Those who think we will surrender on equalizing the burden doesn’t know us.”

Kadima leader Shaul Mofaz said the same thing happened to his party when Netanyahu disbanded the Kadima-led Plesner Committee last year. The dispute over how to draft yeshiva students led to the collapse of Netanyahu’s short-lived coalition with Kadima. He called upon Lapid to hold strong and “not become the dishrag of the Likud.”

Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett engaged in shuttle diplomacy to prevent the current coalition from suffering the same fate. Bennett met three times with Ya’alon and three times with Lapid on Monday.

“We will find a solution, because we agree on more than we disagree,” Bennett said. “This is not the time to burn bridges. We need to work to find a solution. No one wants to see police conduct mass arrests on Bnei Brak. We want there to be enough incentives and love to connect the haredim to Israeli society.”

In a sign of optimism, the Bayit Yehudi faction appointed secular MK Ayelet Shaked to head a Knesset task force that will be responsible for ensuring the passage of the Peri Committee’s legislation.

At a meeting of the joint Likud-Yisrael Beytenu faction, Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman said the legislation being drafted must ensure that the Arab sector will also serve.

He warned that what is not done now might have to wait another 65 years.

The haredi factions canceled weekly press conferences Monday. Shas officials said they preferred to watch Likud and Lapid fight rather than talk themselves.

But opposition leader Shelly Yacimovich defended the haredim. She said efforts by Likud and Lapid to obtain credit for forcing haredi conscription would result in fewer haredim entering the IDF.

“Such cynical political blabber reeks of narrow political interests,” said Labor faction chairman Isaac Herzog. “The actual goal of equalizing the burden and helping haredim enter the workforce has been forgotten.”


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