Jerusalem: Israel`s centre-right Kadima party has withdrawn support from the Benjamin Netanyahu government over a contentious draft law for universal conscription, leaving the ruling coalition with a curtailed majority and raising possibility of early polls.
"I have reached an understanding that the prime minister has not left us a choice and so we have responded," he added announcing withdrawal of support to the coalition some 70 days after Kadima joined it with fanfare.
"There is an attempt here to bypass principles and confuse the public. It doesn`t fool me and it doesn`t fool the public," Mofaz stressed.
In his resignation letter, the Deputy Prime Minister blasted Netanyahu for preferring the haredi parties in his coalition over Kadima and accused him of a lack of leadership.
Whereas, the Israeli Premier responded through a letter saying that for change to happen it must be done gradually without causing a rift in the society.
"I am sorry you decided to give up on a chance to make a historic change," Netanyahu wrote to Mofaz.
The Kadima party Chairman noted that he was willing to compromise in negotiations over universal service but there were "red lines" he was unwilling to cross.
Mofaz submitted his resignation after what he termed a new and far-reaching legislative proposal intended to resolve the quarrel between Likud and Kadima regarding the wording of the new law which would equalise the burden of army service.
According to Mofaz, the offer was that 50 per cent of ultra-orthodox Jews between the ages of 18-23 would be drafted by the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) and another 50 per cent would be drafted into national service between the ages of 23-26.
"He who says 26, doesn`t want true equality," the Kadima
leader said accusing Netanyahu`s Likud party of trying to sell a "make believe" equality.
"I will continue to fight,`" he stated adding, "This `26 bill` doesn`t stand any type of test."
While the draft seems to have offered Haredims (ultra-orthodox) incentives for joining the army at 18, it also provided them with the option to continue to push off their draft.
"Netanyahu`s proposal contradicts the ruling of the High Court of Justice, does not conform to the principle of equality, is disproportionate and does not meet the tests of effectiveness that are set down in the High Court`s ruling, or the principles of the committee on equalising the burden of IDF service", the Kadima leader said.
"Let`s make this clear - We are referring to enlistment targets that do not include all of those eligible for the draft, and we are therefore countenancing a word `laundering` that in effect leaves the situation as it was," Mofaz said.
Netanyahu`s associates said that Mofaz had made up his mind to leave long ago and even if the Prime Minister would have proposed drafting every yeshiva (ultra-orthodox seminary) student at 18, Kadima would have said no.
The High Court has passed a ruling asking the government to revise the so-called Tal law, which has extended exemptions to tens of thousands of ultra-orthodox seminary students from joining the army, by August 1.
It remains unclear as to what would happen after the High Court set deadline but defence Minister Ehud Barak said that on that date he would begin drafting an unspecified number of ultra-religious soldiers and propose temporary legislation until a more permanent arrangement can be made in the coming months.
Opposition leader Shelly Yechimovich, who will lose that position when Mofaz`s resignation takes effect, called for immediate elections following Kadima`s "embarrassing and pathetic" time in the coalition.
Meanwhile, Energy and Water Minister Uzi Landau of the ultra-nationalist Yisrael Beteinu party said that Kadima`s departure did not end the battle for equality in the burden of service, calling upon its parliamentarians to vote for his party`s bill on the issue to be brought to a preliminary vote today.
The move can potentially embarrass Netanyahu as Yisrael Beteinu will now be the second largest coalition partner in the government and if it joins hands with the opposition on the issue, the numbers would shift against the government.
Even if Netanyahu manages to hold on to the trim coalition together, the political crisis has broader implications for the peace process now that he is left with a narrow parliamentary majority.