Despite the withdrawal Tuesday of the Kadima Party from Israel’s coalition government following its rejection of a compromise universal draft bill, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to seek Knesset approval of the legislation.
“He will try to push the proposal through and put the onus on members of the Knesset,” said Zalman Shoval, a former Israeli ambassador to the United States and currently an adviser to Netanyahu. “Do they want to vote for or against something that is not in total conformity with what [Kadima] proposed but that would move the issue hundreds of miles forward? It would be a very important start.”
Netanyahu offered what he called compromise legislation Tuesday morning in an effort to break a stalemate over the issue of universal service and avert an end to the unprecedented 70-day, 94-member coalition government.
The proposal reportedly called for 50 percent of haredim or fervently Orthodox Jews between the ages of 18 and 23 to be drafted into military service. Another 50 percent would be drafted into national service — such as performing in police or fire units — between the ages of 23 and 26.
But Shaul Mofaz, the leader of Kadima who joined the coalition with the express purpose of dealing with the issue of national service, rejected the proposal as “disproportionate and contrary to the High Court ruling” because it did not meet the principle of equality for all Israeli citizens who must serve in the Israel Defense Forces when they turn 18.
He was referring to a decision of Israel’s top court, which declared illegal the Tal Law that granted exemptions from the draft to haredi yeshiva students. The law expires Aug. 1.
Before Kadima withdrew from the coalition, Netanyahu had been quoted as saying that he hoped passage of his compromise bill would result in the enlistment of 6,000 haredim in 2016, compared with the 2,400 who signed up in 2011.
“We are committed to equalizing the burden,” he reportedly said.
But Mofaz said he was unwilling to compromise on the issue of conscription or the enlistment age. He was quoted as saying he would allow yeshiva students to study until the age of 22 before enlisting, but that Netanyahu would not accept 22 as the cutoff age for deferments.
Shoval called Netanyahu’s legislative proposal a “productive, constructive compromise” and said it would be passed in the Knesset by members “who are responsible, experienced politicians who think in national terms and not in terms of party politics.”
The withdrawal of Kadima’s 28 members from the coalition leaves it with a slim 66-vote majority in the 120-member Knesset, but Shoval said the coalition “ will not collapse.”
“Sometimes a narrow coalition makes for a stronger government,” he said. “And maybe some of the people in Kadima will still support the government.”
Three Kadima members voted not to leave the coalition.
But Gerald Steinberg, a professor of political science at Bar-Ilan University, said he believes the chances of an early election are greater now than they were before Kadima joined the coalition a little more than two months ago.
Elections are not scheduled until late next year, although Steinberg said he has heard talk that they might be held as early as next February.
Should Netanyahu decide not to try to push his bill through the Knesset, Steinberg said he believes private talks would continue to be held between Netanyahu’s Likud Party and the Kadima Party to arrive at a compromise bill. Should a compromise not be reached by Aug. 1, he said Defense Minister Ehud Barak would “have the authority to draft all those who turn 18.”
Should there be no quick compromise or court resolution, Steinberg said the issue would probably be put on the back burner until after elections. But in the end, he said, some compromise must be found that would involve “a gradual but significant form of national service for everybody, including Israeli Arabs.”
Steinberg said Mofaz appeared to get boxed in by the recommendations of the Plesner Committee, which was appointed by Netanyahu to explore the issue and develop a proposal acceptable to all. Because the committee chairman, Yohanan Plesner, is a member of the Kadima Party, he said, “Mofaz could not back away from its recommendations.”
The compromise legislation Netanyahu is proposing, Steinberg said, also is not practical because it calls for thousands of haredim over the age of 23 to be drafted for national service. But he pointed out that most haredim over the age of 23 or 24 already have children and that Israelis with children are automatically exempt from service.