The Tal Committee, which was set up to create legislation that would formalize the current procedures governing draft deferment for yeshiva students, will not complete its work in the time limit accorded it. The committee was supposed to have completed its deliberations by this week. However, the time was spent discussing issues which did not directly focus on the main objective of the committee.
Last year, the High Court ruled that the amendment that authorizes the Minister of Defense to decide on draft deferrals was illegal. This means that the Knesset must now enact a law that would govern this procedure. The High Court set a date, the beginning of December 1999, for the passage of this law.
Maronan veRabonon, gedolei Yisroel, have ruled that this issue is of paramount importance and must be first on the agenda.
On the eve of the establishment of the current government, the Prime Minister and the heads of the coalition signed an agreement with the United Torah Judaism and Shas parties regarding the formation of a committee to craft legislation on the matter. The religious parties had been promised that the committee would simply anchor the existing situation in legislation.
The coalition agreement called for the committee to be set up immediately after the establishment of the government.
However, the government failed to fulfill its promise, and the committee, headed by former Justice Tzvi Tal was only set up a month-and-a-half later.
The fact that the committee has failed to meet its deadline is regarded as an additional breach of confidence on the part of Prime Minister Ehud Barak. Critics charged that Barak is making no effort to ensure the proper functioning of the committee.
During the coalition negotiations, the Prime Minster's aides proposed that the deferral arrangement be solved temporarily, by means of repeated requests to the High Court to postpone the decision.
This was rejected by the UTJ, which argued that it was self- evident that the existing situation must be anchored in the law. According to one source close to the issue, UTJ representatives repeatedly stressed that it was impossible to allow the issue to remain pending.
Certain members of the committee and close confidants of the Prime Minster told Yated Ne'eman that in their opinion, the committee still has a "lot of ground to cover."
"The committee has so far deliberated on only one of the issues facing it," said one source close to the discussions.
"There are many issues it still must discuss. Only after completing these discussions, will it begin disccusing the actual formulation of the law."
Chareidi activists said that if it becomes clear that the heads of the coalition do not plan to pass the law, a new situation will have been created, and the chareidi representative will have to ask the gedolei Yisroel how to proceed.
The Tal Committee responded: "Because the deliberations will not end by November 22, there will be a brief postponement of a month or two, while attempting to make summaries by mid- December. For this purpose, intensive discussions, without postponements or cancellations will be held, no matter how many members of the committee are present. Until now, the following issues were discussed: military service as opposed to studying in yeshiva, economic aspects, employment in the chareidi sector. Many other bodies are supposed to participate in the committee meetings.
UTJ MK Rabbi Moshe Gafni issued a statement which pointed out, that the "UTJ supported this coalition in an unprecedented manner, and did so without taking any jobs for itself, but only in order to preserve the status quo, and to legislate a law which would guarantee the continuation of the current arrangement for the deferral of the drafts of yeshiva students.
"As far as we are concerned, and from any aspect, it was possible to pass the law immediately," Rabbi Gafni said.
"However, the Prime Minister, at his initiative, and for his needs, proposed that a committee be founded immediately, and promised that within three months, it would prepare the draft of the proposed law.
"We saw no reason to establish such a committee, but agreed to the proposal, only on condition that within three months all of the committee's work be completed, and legislative procedures begin, and the law passed by three readings in the Knesset, prior to the date determined by the High Court last year.
"The Prime Minster knew, and was explicitly told, that we would not agree to any postponement, because postponement implies endless dawdling, as was the case on other issues in the past.
"Political experience has proven that the more one waits, after the government is established, the harder it is to effect legislation in coalitional agreements.
"Due to our insistence on this point, the coalition negotiations stretched out until an explicit and obligating timetable were set. "The Prime Minister has already undermined the status quo in the turbine issue. As a result, at the instructions of Maranan veRrabonan, we left the coalition. Now it has become clear that the Prime Minister systematically makes promises and breaks them, even on an issue with precise and explicit timetables.
"The Prime Minister should have felt a need to abide by his promises, not only in order to meet his obligations to Shas, which is still in the coalition.
"At the time Shas said that it would stand behind the agreement which the UTJ made regarding the legislation of the law, and it also demanded that this be included in the coalition agreement it signed with the government."
Rabbi Gafni added: "UTJ, which now functions as an opposition will wait to see whether during the forthcoming days, the Prime Minister will fulfill his obligations on time.
"The UTJ faction will present all of the facts to the gedolei Yisroel who will advise us how to behave in relation to the Prime Minister and his government, in light of the new situation which is currently developing."