The coalition could start discussing an early election date later this month if it does not reach a compromise on the Haredi draft bill, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday.
“If we don’t find a solution for the enlistment bill in two weeks, we’ll decide on a date for an election,” Netanyahu said at a meeting of coalition party leaders Sunday, according to sources in the meeting.
However, the Likud said, “Netanyahu is continuing efforts to find a solution for the matter of the enlistment bill.”
“We have no interest in elections, but we cannot compromise on a significant matter of principle, or maintaining the status of yeshiva students who study full-time,” said Deputy Health Minister and leader of United Torah Judaism Ya’acov Litzman. “The different offers will be brought to the Council of Torah Sages for discussion, and they will decide on the matter. We will do as they instruct.”
“Why wait two weeks? Election now!” tweeted Zionist Union faction chairman Yoel Hasson. “The opposition is ready at any time to vote to disperse the Knesset and go to an election. Enough games and spin from the prime minister.”
Last week, the High Court of Justice gave the government a three-month extension from its September deadline to pass a new law regarding drafting the ultra-Orthodox into the IDF or civilian service.
Due to the difficulty in reaching agreements between coalition partners on the matter, many in the political field saw the court’s new date – December 2 – as a deadline to call an election.
Netanyahu said following the ruling that he does not want an election to be held before the final date to do so, in November 2019, and his spokesman said Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman and Litzman “have a shared will to solve the issue of conscription.”
A Likud source told The Jerusalem Post Wednesday that beating David Ben-Gurion’s record as longest-serving prime minister is an important benchmark for Netanyahu.
To surpass Ben-Gurion, Netanyahu would have to remain prime minister at least until May 31, 2019.
A source in Agudat Yisrael, Litzman’s party within UTJ, said he believed it was likely the law would be amended and then passed.
In June, the party’s rabbinical council convened and told its MKs that if the current version of the bill is passed into law, the party should quit the coalition, while Litzman said in July he would quit the government if the bill is not changed.
The party and its rabbis have ideological objections to a clause in the bill stipulating financial sanctions against the general yeshiva budget if Haredi conscription targets are not met, and they see such sanctions as an unacceptable punishment for studying Torah.
If the Knesset fails to pass a Haredi draft law by December 2, all yeshiva students currently receiving ongoing annual military service deferrals would be obligated to enlist. This would result in mass contempt for the rule of law, since the seminarians would likely evade the draft. The army also does not have the capacity to absorb them.
The High Court struck down the previous arrangement in September 2017 and gave the government 12 months to pass a new law, but a failure to address the issue promptly meant the coalition ran out of time. The government asked for a seven-month extension, and the court gave it three months.
Jeremy Sharon contributed to this report.