Seventy days after Kadima and Likud formed the largest coalition in Israeli history, the political marriage between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Kadima party head Shaul Mofaz collapsed due to disagreements on how to replace Israel’s Tal Law, which exempts ultra-orthodox (haredi) Israelis and Arabs from military service. While two months ago a general election in Israel seemed imminent, Mofaz’s decision to cooperate with Netanyahu made an election unnecessary for the time being. Mofaz’s purpose in joining into a coalition was to return Kadima to a key role in the Israeli political arena by positioning the party as an influential leader in policy-making.
Last week, however, Mofaz announced to his Kadima colleagues that the Plesner Committee — charged with replacing the Tal Law — failed, leaving the party with no choice but to quit the coalition, which it did following a vote. In fact, during the Plesner Committee’s negotiations, intense disagreement among members lead some to resign and ultimately the committee lost the majority of its membership. On July 2, Netanyahu dissolved the committee, but even so it published its recommendations, widening the divide between the prime minister and Kadima.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Kadima head Shaul Mofaz give a joint press conference during happier days. (Photo: Reuters)
Netanyahu maintains that he will put forward a bill able to win a Knesset majority addressing both Israel’s ultra-orthodox and Arab communities. The Tal Law, legislated in 2002, is set to expire August 1 as a result of Israel’s February 2012 Supreme Court decision. The government, therefore, has less than one week to complete passable legislation. If no new legislation passes the Knesset, the Israeli Security Service Law will permit the Ministry of Defense to draft every haredi citizen at or above 18 years of age.
Despite Kadima’s withdrawal, Netanyahu’s governing coalition still has a majority, and thus it is not yet clear whether new elections are imminent. The collapse of the wide unity coalition resulted from disagreements, but more than anything emphasizes the need for strong, pragmatic, and compromising leadership in Israel. Exempting haredi Jews and Arabs, both of which hail from homogeneous and ideological societies, from military service has become a social norm in Israel. Due the nature of these two sectors, change away from this norm must be affected smartly and gradually, and by visionaries.