Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is set to arrive back in Israel on Friday, as his coalition partners attempt to finalize an agreement on haredi conscription that can keep his government intact and avoid an early election.
Netanyahu will convene his cabinet and his coalition party leaders on Sunday and reveal to them whether he intends to seek an election despite the advancement of the deal.
In an emerging agreement being worked out between Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked (Bayit Yehudi), former Shas MK Ariel Attias and United Torah Judaism MKs, the original haredi bill that would restore blanket military service exemptions will receive approval as coalition legislation by the Ministerial Committee for Legislation on Sunday.
It will then be approved in a preliminary reading in the Knesset as early as Monday, amended in committee during the Knesset recess, and be prepared for its first, second and third (final) readings, to be passed sometime in May or June.
Critically, United Torah Judaism chairman and Deputy Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman appears open to allowing the bill to pass only its preliminary reading before approving the 2019 state budget, in a change from his statements until now.
A source close to the deputy minister told The Jerusalem Post
that Litzman would approach the Council of Torah Sages of the Agudat Yisrael movement to which he belongs to gain approval for such a step.
The details of how the legislation will be amended are also emerging. Instead of creating a Basic Law establishing Torah study as a supreme value that can be done in lieu of military service – as the original bill would do – the amended version would simply require that annual targets for haredi enlistment be fulfilled.
If these targets are not met, then the law would be automatically be canceled, meaning that all haredi men would be obligated to enlist for IDF service. The review of these targets would only happen every five years, however. It would also not be a Basic Law.
This compromise, including the timeline, is thought to be acceptable to Shas and to Degel Hatorah, the other constituent party of UTJ.
Yisrael Beytenu chairman and Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, who is an ardent advocate of haredi IDF enlistment, issued a strongly worded statement on Thursday evening accusing the haredi parties of holding the country hostage, and putting a gun to the head of the coalition with their demands for passing the law before the budget.
He did not, however, explicitly rule out the compromise currently being formulated. He did say that the professional committee he established within the Defense Ministry to formulate a new law be allowed time to complete its work and present its proposal.
“Yisrael Beytenu has relinquished its own agenda [on the issue] and committed to accepting the plan being drawn up by the Defense Ministry and the IDF,” Liberman insisted.
A spokesman for Liberman declined to say whether the Yisrael Beytenu chairman would consent to the proposals under formulation by Shaked, UTJ and Shas.
One source in UTJ said that despite the tone of the defense minister’s statement, “Liberman surrendered.”Gil Hoffman contributed to this report.