PM, Mofaz try to save gov't despite Tal Law clash

Kadima leader refuses to issue new ultimatum over Tal Law replacement dispute, tells Yeshiva students

Haredi, soldier at IDF recruitment office 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Haredi, soldier at IDF recruitment office 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Kadima leader Shaul Mofaz on Wednesday evening tried to settle their dispute over how to equalize the burden of IDF service, following a clash between Vice Premier Moshe Ya’alon and MK Yohanan Plesner, their respective representatives on the issue.
Sources close to Mofaz said that in the meeting with Netanyahu there was neither a breakthrough nor a breakdown.
“In all negotiations, there are moments of tension, like what has happened today,” Mofaz said in a speech to 150 yeshiva students in Jerusalem following his meeting with the prime minister. “At the moment we’re discussing the actual text of the bill and we’re making progress. But if we don’t come to an agreement, we won’t be partners in the coalition.”
“The negotiations will continue tomorrow. I don’t want to establish deadlines, which will only make more problems. The deadline will be established by the results [of the negotiations],” he said.
At a hastily called meeting of the Kadima faction, Mofaz received authorization to decide on his own whether the party should quit the coalition as early as this weekend. Several MKs urged him to leave immediately but he decided to give Netanyahu another chance.
The main dispute between Likud and Kadima was over whether there should be quotas limiting the number of yeshiva students permitted to avoid the draft, as Kadima demands, or merely setting targets for the number of haredim drafted, which the Likud prefers. The parties also disagree on the final age at which service could be avoided and the extent of sanctions against draft evaders.
“We support financial sanctions but oppose criminal sanctions,” a source close to Netanyahu said. “In a Jewish state, no one will go to prison for studying Torah.”
Mofaz said that if the Likud and Kadima are unable to agree on a new law now, 10 or 15 years could pass before another opportunity arises to change the situation. He said the new law should be drafted with understanding for the demands of different parts of society, but also needs to include terms that compel service.
“We didn’t come to the coalition to wage war against haredim,” Mofaz told the yeshiva students. “I want the status of the haredi community in 15 years to be much better than today. I want haredim to be able to integrate into society, to advance your own future. It will be better for your society to achieve this as well as society in general.”
Ya’alon and Plesner will meet again on Thursday, but both sides expressed pessimism that the crisis could be resolved, especially amid the bad blood created by their public dispute.
If they fail to reach a compromise, it is likely that Kadima’s 28 MKs will leave the coalition, and the Defense Ministry will issue a directive refraining from arresting 18-year-olds who do not go to the army immediately when the “Tal Law” that facilitated exemptions from service expires on July 31. Meanwhile, efforts to draft a new law could continue over the summer.
“Without a meaningful solution that will make history, we will not remain in the government,” Mofaz told the Kadima faction. “We are in a crisis, but there is an opportunity and a small period of time to solve it. If there won’t be a decision soon, we will leave.”
According to Plesner, he walked out of a meeting with Ya’alon because negotiations on a universal service bill had hit a “dead end” after the minister backtracked on key issues. Plesner’s associates warned that Ya’alon was trying to turn the bill into “a copy of the Tal Law,” which allowed haredim to indefinitely postpone service, and render it “empty of content.”
Ya’alon rejected Kadima’s claims that there was a “blow up” in the meeting with Plesner, saying he only heard that talks were off via the media. He said it was Kadima that had backtracked on the quota issue but that he was ready to negotiate again.
“We will bring more people sharing the burden in the Arab and haredi sectors with or without Kadima,” Ya’alon said. “There is a principled argument on whether we want more haredim in the army or to declare war on the haredim. They are insisting on throwing haredim in jail. Throw people in jail for studying Torah? If we do that, all the progress that has been made with the programs that there already are will go backward.”
In an interview with the haredi radio station Kol Chai, Ya’alon accused Plesner of wanting to “declare war on the haredi sector.”
“We need to [enlist yeshiva students] gradually, because the army can’t prepare itself to absorb masses of haredim on one day, and we don’t need to start putting people in jail because of this,” he said. “We want [national] unity along with the draft, and not a civil war without a draft. If we declare war on those studying Torah and say that we’ll put in jail whoever doesn’t enlist, then we won’t succeed in drafting anyone.”
Labor chairwoman Shelly Yechimovich had urged Mofaz to announce in the Kadima faction meeting that his party would immediately quit the coalition, “and stop the political farce surrounding the Tal Law, which will not yield real results even if a new law is approved.
“Elections should be held in September and this was avoided just because of a political exercise of survival,” Yechimovich said. “Now we have to go to the public and let it have its say in a wide range of significant issues in Israeli society.”