Israel´s Kadima party quits Netanyahu government (REUTERS) By Jeffrey Heller JERSALEM, ISRAEL 07/17/12 2:58pm EDT)
Reuters News Service
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(Reuters) - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu´s main
political partner pulled out of his grand coalition on Tuesday,
accusing him of surrendering to ultra-Orthodox Jews in a battle over
Netanyahu will remain in office for the foreseeable future, still in
control of a majority in parliament despite the decision by the
centrist Kadima party to bolt the government it joined only two
But the break-up was widely seen in Israel as a serious political
blow to Netanyahu, whose recruitment of Kadima leader Shaul Mofaz in
May to form one of the biggest governments in the country´s history
had newspapers hailing him as "King Bibi".
The political turmoil raised fresh speculation among some Israeli
commentators about an early election ahead of a national ballot due
in late 2013. But there was no immediate sign from Netanyahu that he
might opt to go the polls.
Kadima, the largest party in the Knesset with 28 of its 120 seats,
had joined the government with the declared aim of ending a decades-
old blanket exemption of Jewish seminary students from military
The change was opposed by ultra-Orthodox factions that have long
propped up coalition governments in Israel, landing Netanyahu in a
"Because of narrow political considerations, you chose the alliance
with the (ultra-Orthodox) over an alliance with the Zionist
majority," Mofaz, Israel´s vice premier, wrote in his letter of
resignation to Netanyahu.
RITE OF PASSAGE
Military service is a rite of passage for many Israelis, who view the
army as a core element of national identity and the essential bulwark
against the country´s Arab and Islamic adversaries since its founding
Jewish men and women in Israel are drafted at the age of 18 for three-
and two-year stints and public pressure from the secular majority
has mounted for a more equal sharing of the military burden.
But weeks of negotiations between Kadima and Netanyahu´s right-wing
Likud party on the language of a new conscription law ended in
disagreement over issues such as how many seminary students to draft
and at what age to do so.
The Supreme Court ruled in February that a temporary law that
codified the exemptions was unconstitutional and set an August 1
deadline for its expiry.
"I am sorry about your decision to forego the opportunity to make a
historical change," Netanyahu wrote in reply to Mofaz´s letter.
"After 64 years (of Israeli independence) we were very close to a
real change in sharing the burden ... I explained to you that the
only way to implement it would be gradually, without tearing up
Israeli society, particularly in a time at which Israel is facing
many significant challenges."
Defense Minister Ehud Barak said that without a new law in place,
past regulations that made military service compulsory for all,
except for most of Israel´s Arab citizens, would go into effect and
the army would decide who to enlist in accordance with its needs.
That would effectively give the military the option of not calling up
the ultra-Orthodox or limiting the number of seminary student
In the early days of the Jewish state, Prime Minister David Ben-
Gurion agreed to exempt about 400 pious students from military
service so they could devote themselves to lifetime study of the main
Now that number has grown to about 60,000 men supported by state
handouts, occasional work and donations from family and friends.
With Kadima in his coalition, Netanyahu controlled 94 parliamentary
seats. His alliance with the centrist party was portrayed at the time
as an opportunity for a new push - which has yet to materialize - for
a resumption of peace talks with the Palestinians, suspended since
2010 in a dispute over Jewish settlement building in the occupied
The majority will now be scaled back to 66, a margin that was widely
seen as comfortable until the conscription dispute led to moves in
May for an early election in September and the surprise formation of
the grand coalition that ended talk of a ballot.
For Kadima´s Mofaz, the move back into opposition holds its own
uncertainties after his resignation as Netanyahu´s top deputy goes
into effect at the end of a 48-hour cooling off period on Thursday.
Kadima´s former leader, Ehud Olmert, who resigned as prime minister
in 2008 to battle corruption charges, was acquitted last week of the
main accusations against him, sparking talk of a political comeback.
He has said he is not interested.
(Additional reporting by Maayan Lubell, editing by Tim Pearce) (©
Thomson Reuters 2012. 07/17/12)
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