Israel's coalition government has fallen into a political crisis after the largest party Kadima resigned, leaving Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu to work with more conservative parties that oppose peace moves with the Palestinians. The moderate Kadima party had joined the government only two months ago, but decided on 17 July to quit over a disagreement on a law which exempts ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students from mandatory military service.
Kadima leader Shaul Mofaz brought the party into the coalition to work with Netanyahu on ending a contentious, decades-old system that has granted draft exemptions to tens of thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jewish seminary students. The High Court of Justice declared in February that the law was unconstitutional and gave the government a deadline of 1 August to revise the law. Yet the sides were unable to forge a compromise. The draft exemptions in the law have caused widespread resentment among Israel's secular majority, who are required to perform two to three years of compulsory military service. Ultra-Orthodox leaders have been equally persistent in their refusal to compromise, claiming that their young men serve the nation through prayer and study. Mofaz wanted fewer exemptions than Netanyahu and for the ultra-religious to be incorporated much faster than Netanyahu’s proposed gradual approach. The talks were complicated by calls for Israel's Arab minority, who make up about 20% of the population and are exempt from the draft, to be forced into civilian national service.
A coalition of convenience
The break-up is seen as a failure for both Netanyahu and Mofaz, who both get slammed by analysts. "This was a coalition born of convenience. It was two political leaders - Mofaz and Netanyahu - who saw their polls slipping and they realised that by getting together they actually could salvage themselves and not have to go to new elections," says Arab-American Institute President James Zogby. "It was never a marriage born of anything other than two weak leaders trying to save their positions - and now it fell apart for the very reason it came together," he added. Other political analysts are equally critical: “The new government had four goals: pass a universal draft law, change the system of government, jump-start the peace process and pass an emergency budget. 17 July, after 70 days of euphoria, the partnership dissolved without any one of those things being achieved.” says analyst Yossi Verter. “Mofaz’ 70 days as vice prime minister had not a whit of influence on the policies of the right-wing, ultra-Orthodox government. Mofaz knew that, and he tried to cut his losses - but to no avail,” adds Haaretz reporter Aluf Benn, who believes this will be the end of Mofaz’ career.
Netanyahu will now have to work with a narrow parliamentary majority dominated by religious and nationalist hardliners who oppose concessions to the Palestinians. Netanyahu expressed his regret over the move of the Kadima party: "I am sorry that you decided to give up the opportunity to bring about a historic change. After 64 years we were very close to a significant change in spreading the burden [of army service]," he said. Kadima’s move could set the stage for early elections, a scenario that would paralyse Middle East diplomacy for months, analysts say. Other analysts claim that Netanyahu will still try to reach a deal on the revision of the law.
Sources: AlJazeera, Haaretz, NRC
Photo: Flickr Tzipi Livni (Kadima leader Shaul Mofaz)