Last week, Yohanan Plesner, the Plesner Committee head and a Kadima MK, presented his committee’s recommendations on how to proceed following the expiration of the Tal Law, which grants military exemptions to individuals from the Haredi community, in spite of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s unilateral order disbanding the committee because of a lack of confidence by several coalition parties.
Set to expire August 1 and ruled unconstitutional by the Israeli Supreme Court, the law divided the newly formed coalition government. Angered over Netanyahu’s decision to dissolve the committee, Kadima leader and Vice Prime Minister Shaul Mofaz had threatened to pull his party out of the coalition.
But, in a turn of events, on Sunday, the Prime Minister’s Likud party unanimously approved the recommendations, temporarily saving the “super coalition” and reigniting hopes that the Tal Law issue will be resolved by the deadline.
All of Plesner’s original recommendations were accepted except for one, which had called for a postponement of the discussion on the issue of Israeli Arab military and national service. Likud members voted instead to alter that part of the panel's report, necessitating an immediate discussion of Israeli Arab service.
Following Likud’s decision to accept the recommendations, Netanyahu and Mofaz put together a team responsible for formulating a bill on the matter. The new group is headlined by Deputy Prime Minister Moshe Ya’alon and Plesner, and includes representatives from the Defense Ministry, Finance Minister, Justice Ministry, as well as individuals from the civil service.
Ya’alon stated that the bills goal would be equality: “We have a historic opportunity before us on a matter that is like a bleeding wound in Israeli society—equality in the security, civil and economic realms… We plan, with due deliberation, to draft a law in the coming days that will express this historic moment while avoiding societal and national rifts."
Plesner said he hoped that the law would be drafted within the next two days and brought before the Ministerial Committee for Legislation on Wednesday. It will then go before the MK’s next week.
During the Likud faction meeting, Netanyahu stated that the new policy would be "done responsibly in order to preserve the unity of the nation." He called it a "historic change," and that the new law would "gradually raise the number of those who serve" in Israel's military.
"Everyone must carry the burden. We will provide positive incentives to those who serve and negative incentives to draft dodgers. The draft dodger will not receive like the one who serves," he said.
While Likud’s newfound support is a significant step forward in getting a new law written and passed, not all of the coalition’s parties are satisfied. The nationalist secular party Yisrael Beiteinu stated that it would vote against the law because it didn’t resolve the issue of Israeli Arab conscription. On Monday, Yisrael Beiteinu leader Avigdor Liberman said that his party would not pull out of the coalition over the Tal Law issue, but that he would present his own bill if he was not satisfied with the bill currently being formulated.
The ultra-right wing orthodox parties are also expected to vote against the law; some believe they may even withdraw from the coalition.
The battle of the Tal Law comes on the heels of mass social protests by the Israeli public, who are resentful over what they deem unfair special treatment towards the Haredim and Israeli Arabs. Close to 20,000 Israelis attended a rally in Tel Aviv Saturday night to voice their frustrations.
Rob Lattin is Jspace News' Foreign Affairs Correspondent. In addition to covering foreign affairs for Jspace, Rob is a blogger on Israeli and Middle Eastern foreign policy for the Foreign Policy Association, as well as a freelance writer. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.