PM won't hesitate to move up elections

Yisrael Beytenu, haredi parties threaten coalition over ‘Tal Law’ alternatives; PM promises more equitable national service law.

PM with reservists 370 (photo credit: Amos Ben Gershom / GPO)
PM with reservists 370
(photo credit: Amos Ben Gershom / GPO)
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said on Sunday that he will decide in the coming weeks when the next national election will take place.
He spoke as coalition partners Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman, Shas chairman Eli Yishai and United Torah Judaism chairman Ya’acov Litzman expressed readiness to force an early election over the “Tal Law” and exemptions from IDF service for haredim (ultra- Orthodox).
Sources from the Likud ministers’ meeting on Sunday morning said the prime minister explained that he has not made a decision yet, and plans to discuss the possibility of an early election with the leaders of coalition parties.
“This government has been successful for three years because of its unity and continuity,” Netanyahu said. “As we move toward the budgetary process [for 2013], we will not continue [as a coalition] if there are blackmail proposals.”
The prime minister then reiterated that he would not be blackmailed into undermining his government’s achievements.
Elections must be held a minimum of 94 days after they are declared, and the leading party after an early vote would need time to form a coalition and the 2013 state budget has to be passed by the beginning of next year. Therefore, many have predicted an election will be held in September or October, though no source close to Netanyahu confirmed the date.
At a Likud central committee meeting on Sunday night, where it was decided that the Likud convention will be held next Sunday, opinions were split between the MKs and ministers present as to when an early election would take place – right before or soon after this fall’s High Holy Days. Only Welfare and Social Services Minister Moshe Kahlon insisted that “the election will happen as planned,” in October 2013.
Government Services Minister Michael Eitan echoed Netanyahu’s concern about the budget, saying that an “election atmosphere” will lead to “proposals pandering to the voter that will have a high economic price.”
Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin, however, pointed out that the Tal Law is the more immediate issue on the government’s agenda, as it expires in August.
“The Tal Law has to do with all sectors in society, and there are severe disagreements on the issue,” Rivlin said. “My estimation is that the prime minister will prefer to make decisions after elections.”
According to Rivlin, calling an early election is not a “political trick”; rather it is a way to answer questions that will affect all Israelis.
Earlier on Sunday, Netanyahu discussed the Tal Law, telling leaders of protest movements Camp Sucker and Common Denominator that he would go to elections if necessary, in order to pass a law that would include mandatory national service for all.
Netanyahu said that new legislation – which will replace the Tal Law, the legal framework that allows haredi yeshiva students to indefinitely defer military service – will create a sea change in the share of the military service burden.
Netanyahu told the protest leaders that the Tal Law would be replaced “with a more equitable and just law,” the Prime Minister’s Office said.
According to the office, the prime minister said that changes will include the “expansion of frameworks alongside budgetary increases,” but that the reforms need to be carried out without pitting different sectors of the population against each other.
He specified that new legislation would include national service for Israeli Arabs.
“This is an historic opportunity to pass such a law, because the majority in Knesset and among the public favors it,” Boaz Nol, one of the leaders of the Common Denominator activism group, told The Jerusalem Post. “In our opinion, anyone who votes against this proposal doesn’t belong in the Knesset.”
Liberman repeated his threat that his party’s 15 MKs would leave the coalition if his alternative to the Tal Law, which will be brought to the Knesset on May 9, does not pass.
“Yisrael Beytenu was a responsible and faithful partner in the coalition,” he wrote on his Facebook wall. “Our patience has ended; promises must be kept. We fulfilled our obligations to the coalition; now the coalition must fulfill its obligations to us and to our voters.”
The foreign minister said that he did not want early elections, but that he was not afraid of them, and would put his voters’ interests above coalition stability.
Defense Minister and Independence chairman Ehud Barak took advantage of the flurry of political statements on the replacement of the Tal Law to promote his bill, which also mandates obligatory national service for all.
The proposal, whose details were announced by Independence earlier this year, would provide financial incentives for IDF service and sets a quota of 400 yeshiva students who would be able to continue study without performing national service.
Meanwhile, haredi parties said they were ready to fight the Tal Law’s replacements and go to elections.
Speaking to the press before Sunday’s cabinet meeting, Yishai said that his Shas party, which has 11 MKs, was ready for elections and that they “have no problem if the prime minister and foreign minister want to go to the polls.”
“The election campaign began more than a year ago on the backs of the haredim and it is haunted by hatred of haredim,” Yishai said.
According to Yishai’s spokesman, the party has yet to decide what it would like to see in legislation to replace the Tal Law.
Litzman referred to politicians’ recent comments on the Tal Law as “cheap populism,” but said nevertheless that his UTJ party, which has five MKs, was well prepared for elections.
He also emphasized that every coalition party signed the coalition agreement, which included the arrangements made for yeshiva students to defer military service, “even those who all of a sudden are demanding that haredim be drafted.”
Underlining the importance of Torah study to his party’s constituency, Litzman averred that “representatives of the haredim will not abandon their [efforts to maintain the formal arrangements whereby] anyone who wants to learn Torah will be able to do so.”
The deputy health minister compared the situation to that of the Migron outpost in Samaria, in which the government and the settlers reached a compromise.