Just one day after joining Israel’s coalition government, the Kadima Party put Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on notice Wednesday that it would withdraw unless there is meaningful reform of the Tal Law, which exempts fervently Orthodox yeshiva students from military service.
“If he refuses to deliver on Tal Law reform, then Kadima will have to draw the political conclusion and we will not be able to continue this alliance,” said Yohanan Plesner, Kadima’s deputy chairman.
In a conference call with the Israel Policy Forum, Plesner said developing an alternative to the Tal Law would be the priority between now and July 31, when the law expires.
“There is a clear, credible dead-end and assuming we come up with a serious reform that will be adopted, it would lead to a dramatic increase in their numbers in the workforce,” Plesner said of the fervently Orthodox.
He said that reform, as well as electoral reform in advance of the next election, were the prime reasons Kadima decided to join the coalition. But, he stressed, “This alliance has a clear time limit and the threshold has to be crossed in 2 ½ months. … In the next 2 ½ months he will have to decide if he will continue the alliance with the ultra-Orthodox [parties] or with us.”
Asked what he would like to see in place of the Tal Law, Plesner said quotas and military recruitment targets should be established for fervently Orthodox yeshiva students, about 10,000 of whom are now exempt from service each year. Those numbers would gradually increase each year until nearly all of the students serve in “significant tracks of civil service or the military.”
He said a “small number of elite students would be able to continue to gain an exemption to study in the yeshivas, which is analogous to the arrangements that existed historically.”
“Some of the ultra-Orthodox will be able to serve at a later age and we will provide additional incentives to Israelis who serve a full three years of service in combat units [beginning at the age of] 18 to balance the inequities from this arrangement,” Plesner added.
Regarding peace talks with the Palestinians, Plesner said his party’s 28 members are “keen on promoting” the Palestinian agenda and that Netanyahu now “has no excuses for not moving forward. … We will do whatever it takes to try to renew negotiations, but I would not count on it because it is also up to the Palestinians.”
His party, Plesner said, believes that a peace agreement with the Palestinians should be based on Israel’s 1967 borders with land swaps to compensate for the large Israeli settlement blocs now in parts of the West Bank. He said Israel should also call an immediate halt to all settlement activities and compensate settlers who would have to move back to Israel proper.
He said also that he supported a proposal that calls for Israel to unilaterally take some of those steps if the Palestinians don’t come to the negotiating table, but he added: “I cannot say this will be the policy of the current government. This would be the line of my party, but we are in a coalition. … I am not able to say those principles can be promoted in this political arrangement.”
Asked about his skepticism about the future of this expanded coalition government, Plesner replied: “My skepticism represents my own political obligation to my set of beliefs and goals. … If the agenda does not move forward, there is no reason to be there.”