Striking a defiant tone in the face of rumors that coalition partners intend to withdraw from the coalition over the issue of charedi enlistment in the IDF, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said on Sunday that he is “not afraid of earlier elections” and that he would submit “ a more egalitarian and just law” to replace the Tal Law that will “include civilian service for Arabs.”
The comments came a day after Foreign Minister and Yisrael Beytenu Chairman Avigdor Liberman told Channel 2’s ‘Meet the Press’ that his party was “no longer obligated” to the coalition, which could disintegrate if the government fails to enact and implement an alternative to the Tal Law – one that mandates enlistment in the IDF or national service for all citizens. But Liberman said that it was too early to speak of such a move, as withdrawal from the coalition would only be considered after Yisrael Beytenu’s proposed alternative is put to a vote before the Knesset on May 9. The Tal Law, which permitted ultra-Orthodox men to defer IDF service indefinitely, was declared illegal by the High Court of Justice in February.
Israel Army radio reported that Netanyahu was undeterred by Liberman’s comments and those of three other coalition partners. “I will not remain in a situation in which I am a victim of extortion by coalition partners. I’m not afraid of elections.” The Army Radio report speculated that a September date was most likely, and added that the Prime Minister said he would decide on early elections “in the next couple of weeks.”
The Prime Minister also met with representatives of the military reservists “sucker’s tent” protest, and -in a statement also released to the press- told them: “The division of the burden must be changed. What has been is not what will be…I know that there are many hitchhikers who voted to automatically extend the Tal Law. I am not one of them.”
Netanyahu stressed that “[t]he Tal Law will be replaced by a more egalitarian and just law, and I will submit it.
“The new law will also include civilian service for Arabs. This must be done without setting public against public…This is high on the list of priorities for the security of the state.”
Boaz Nol, one of the protest leaders that met with the Prime Minister, told Ynet that Netanyahu said: “If necessary we’ll go to elections over this.”
Jeremy Saltan, a Knesset adviser to the National Union faction, told The Jewish Press that although the media is clamoring for an election, “it is Netanyahu who has to call new elections. The opposition parties’ say doesn’t matter, and any coalition party that brings down the government won’t be in the next government…I think that between January and March of 2013 makes the most sense for Netanyahu, so that will most likely be the date for elections.”
But Interior Minister Eli Yishai of Shas took the recent comments and reports seriously, and said that although he did not want early elections, Shas would not be intimidated by Netanyahu or Liberman. “If the prime minister and the foreign minister want elections, we are ready for elections at any time. The election campaign has begun on the backs of the haredi public because they think that will bring them more mandates.”
A source in the Knesset told The Jewish Press that “Shas is worried about [former Shas leader] Aryeh Deri and, to a lesser extent, [former Shas maverick] Haim Amsalem. Shas needs votes and needs to figure out how to keep the Sefardi charedim with the Sefardi traditionalists…Right now they are doing poorly in the polls so they have no interest in new elections. They do have an interest of pretending they want new elections, because that helps them in polls.
“UTJ, on the other hand, doesn’t want elections because they got a good deal to stick with Netanyahu and they will want to get all the money they are promised through the end of 2012. The Tal law means less to them because they are never fighting for votes and they know some compromise will be made. Their voters come out when the Rabbis tell them to, and that is that.
“As for HaBayit HaYehudi and Ehud Barak’s Independence party, they aren’t passing the threshold in most polls, so they obviously won’t leave the government.”
That really only leaves Yisrael Beytenu, which according to recent polls would either retain its current number of seats or drop to 14, if elections were held today. In light of Likud’s strong showing (an increase of 4 seats – to 31 – in both The Jerusalem Post and Israel Hayom polls), an early exit from the coalition could have Yisrael Beytenu on the outside of the next government looking in.