Israel´s Netanyahu faces coalition crisis (AP) Associated Press) By JOSEF FEDERMAN JERUSALEM, ISRAEL 07/03/12 1:32 pm ET)
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JERUSALEM – Israel´s prime minister on Tuesday moved to contain the
first major crisis in his newly expanded coalition government after
his most significant partner threatened to quit in a dispute over how
to overhaul the country´s military draft.
Benjamin Netanyahu is rushing to meet an Aug. 1 court deadline to end
a contentious system that has exempted tens of thousands of ultra-
Orthodox Jews from serving in the army.
The explosive issue is threatening to drive Netanyahu´s new coalition
partner, Kadima, out of the government. Kadima, led by Shaul Mofaz, a
former military chief of staff, joined the coalition just two months
ago with the aim of reforming the draft.
"If Netanyahu doesn´t keep his promises, then the crisis is going to
be severe and there won´t be a partnership. There´s no middle ground
here," Mofaz told the Yediot Ahronot daily.
The issue of the exemptions has become a major point of division in
Under a long-standing arrangement, ultra-Orthodox seminary students
are permitted to skip mandatory military service in order to pursue
This system, begun six decades ago by Israel´s founding fathers, was
originally meant to allow several hundred gifted scholars to revive
institutions of Jewish learning following the killing of 6 million
Jews in the Holocaust.
The numbers of exemptions have swelled over the years, and today,
more than 60,000 young religious men are exempt from military service.
These exemptions, combined with a refusal to enter the workforce and
a sense that they are trying to force their strict religious mores on
the general public, have bred resentment among Israel´s secular
majority, where men are required to serve three years in the
military, and women just under two years. Many must serve additional
decades as reservists.
Modern Orthodox Jews, who make up about 15 percent of the Jewish
population, serve in the military.
Earlier this year, the Supreme Court ruled the current system illegal
and gave the government until Aug. 1 to formulate a new law.
Netanyahu put Kadima in charge of a special parliamentary committee
created to draft the new legislation. But on Monday, he disbanded the
committee over deep disagreements among its members.
Ultra-Orthodox parties oppose any change in the current system and
refuse to cooperate with the committee. Two other parties quit the
panel because the new law might not apply to Israel´s minority Arabs,
who also do not serve in the military.
Following Netanyahu´s decision, Mofaz said the disbanded committee
would still issue its recommendations on Wednesday. He said if
Netanyahu did not take the "necessary step" of using the report as
the basis for a new draft system, "the national unity government will
come to an end."
An Israeli official said that Netanyahu was working to resolve the
standoff. The official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he
was not authorized to discuss the matter, said Netanyahu planned a
series of meetings with coalition partners this week.
He said Netanyahu remains committed to key principles worked out with
Kadima: Ensuring that all sectors of Israeli society share the burden
of military and national service, implementing any changes gradually
and maintaining national unity.
Officials have said they expect a final compromise to reduce, but not
eliminate, draft exemptions for the religious and create some sort of
civilian national service for Israeli Arabs.
It remains unclear whether Kadima will truly bolt the government.
With 29 seats in the 120-member chamber, Kadima is the largest party
in parliament. Recent polls have forecast it would plunge to roughly
10 seats if new elections are held.
Although Netanyahu would retain a narrow parliamentary majority,
Kadima´s departure would be deeply embarrassing and rob him of a key
moderating force in a coalition otherwise dominated by religious and
As he draws up a new draft law, without Kadima Netanyahu would also
be subject to even more intense pressure from the remaining factions
in the coalition, including the ultra-Orthodox Shas Party and the
fiercely secular Yisrael Beitenu.
Neither showed any signs of bending.
"We will not compromise on a partial solution. We will not agree to
any postponement," Yisrael Beitenu´s leader, Foreign Minister Avigdor
Lieberman, told Army Radio. "At age 18, everyone needs to serve."
Interior Minister Eli Yishai, leader of the ultra-Orthodox Shas
Party, said prayer and religious study had saved the country. "The
state ... would not have been established without the Torah of
Israel," he said.
Avraham Diskin, a professor of political science at the
Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya college, said that with so much at
stake, he expected Netanyahu to somehow forge a compromise.
"There is a possibility that the collation will lose its majority;
that the government will collapse and they will call new elections,"
Diskin said, "but if I had to bet, I would bet that they would reach
some sort of temporary formula or delay by the courts." (© 2012 The
Associated Press 07/03/12)
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