Kadima party quits Netanyahu's coalition over dispute on drafting ultra-Orthodox

Wed, Jul 18, 2012, 01:00

THE CENTRIST Kadima party, which joined prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s government just over two months ago, yesterday quit the coalition, raising the possibility of early elections, possibly early next year.

Kadima leader Shaul Mofaz said he had no choice but to take Kadima back into the opposition after contacts with Mr Netanyahu’s Likud party over a new law on drafting the ultra-Orthodox failed to reach a compromise acceptable to both parties.

The Israeli high court earlier this year ruled that mass exemptions for the ultra-Orthodox were illegal and ordered the government to introduce a new law on a military draft by August 1st.

When he joined the broad-based coalition, one of the biggest in Israel’s history, Mr Mofaz argued that he would be able to introduce “historic legislation” to spread the burden of military service.

However, eager to maintain the support of ultra-Orthodox coalition partners, Mr Netanyahu refused to endorse Kadima’s far-reaching proposals, which included heavy fines, and even prison, for draft-dodgers.

Mr Mofaz accused Mr Netanyahu of backing draft-dodgers and stressed that he was unwilling to compromise on the enlistment age. He said that Kadima was willing to allow ultra-Orthodox yeshiva seminary students to study until the age of 22 before enlisting.

“The prime minister was not willing to go below 26 and I did not accept the offer.

“Because of narrow political considerations, you chose the alliance with the [ultra-Orthodox] over an alliance with the Zionist majority,” Mr Mofaz wrote in his letter of resignation.

Mr Netanyahu said he regretted Mr Mofaz’s decision to squander an opportunity to make a historic change.

“I presented you with a proposal to achieve ultra-Orthodox and Arab draft at age 18 and I explained to you that the only way to implement this is gradually and without tearing up the Israeli society.”

Kadima’s move still leaves Mr Netanyahu with a workable majority in the Knesset parliament, but most analysts believe he will opt for early elections before October 2013, when the government’s term ends.

There is also renewed uncertainty over the new draft law. If a new law requiring universal military service for all comes into effect on August 1st ultra-Orthodox parties may also desert the coalition, making early elections a certainty.

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 Jewish scriptures.

Now that number has grown to about 60,000 men supported by state allowances, occasional work and donations from family and friends. – (Additional reporting Reuters)