Kadima Chairman Shaul Mofaz convened an emergency faction meeting on Wednesday, hours after the defunct Plesner committee announced its recommendations on obligating all citizens to perform mandatory military or national service, demanding that the prime minister adopt the committee's conclusions as the basis for a new law.
The Plesner committee was established at the behest of Mofaz, who stated that the equality in service was one of the main issues that prompted him to strike a partnership with the ruling Likud party and join the coalition. The committee was tasked with drafting an alternative to the existing Tal Law, which exempts ultra-Orthodox citizens from mandatory military service. Following weeks of heated public debate, and the resignation of key committee members, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dispersed the committee on Monday, sparking speculation that Mofaz and Kadima may quit the coalition.
The pared-down committee, representing mainly Kadima's stance having lost many of its key members, set a goal of recruiting 80 percent of the eligible haredi population by 2016, and insisted on imposing harsh penalties on individuals who refuse to comply with the draft. The committee's recommendations are not binding, and cannot compel the prime minister to decide one way or the other.
Following the announcement, Mofaz told reporters that "the ball is now in the prime minister's court. It should be a matter of days."
He added that he expected the prime minister to adopt the Plesner recommendations, saying "if the principles are not adopted, we will not be able to look our children in the eye. This is a test of leadership."
On Tuesday afternoon, Mofaz and Netanyahu met behind the scenes, in the wake of Kadima's threat to withdraw from the coalition. Netanyahu asked Mofaz to "concentrate on getting the law passed that would advance equality in the sharing of the burden," promising that the Plesner recommendations would serve a guideline in the legislation process. The prime minister honed in on four main issues: increasing the number of draftees, doing it gradually, recruiting both ultra-Orthodox and Arab citizens to the military or mandatory national service and refraining from pitting one sector against another.
Netanyahu has not revealed the scope of the enlistment that he would propose, insisting that this would be decided in meetings with the individual party leaders. He explained that the Plesner committee had lost the faith of the coalition because it failed to address the recruitment of Arab citizens, and that is why it was disbanded.
The main dispute in the debate revolved around the imposition of personal penalties, on which Kadima insists but the ultra-Orthodox parties vehemently oppose. Kadima has rejected a proposal raised by Shas, according to which the penalties would apply mainly to housing and fines corresponding to grants invested in them by the state. But Kadima may be willing to a gradual implementation of the harsher penalties, so that initially the penalties would be much less severe, and grow progressively harsher. Shas may also agree to such a compromise.
A source within Kadima said Tuesday that "if Netanyahu rejects the [Plesner] recommendations, Mofaz will immediately quit the coalition." Mofaz's associates stressed that if the negotiations over the law failed to progress, Mofaz could pull out as early as Sunday.
Dalia Itzik, the chairwoman of the Kadima faction, speculated on Tuesday that Mofaz would not quit. "This is not the time for elections," she said. "This is the time for politicians to reach understandings."