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Netanyahu Considers Elections Amid Exemptions Dispute

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he may call early elections because of disagreements with parties within his coalition over military service exemptions for ultra-Orthodox Jews and Arabs.

Netanyahu told lawmakers from his Likud party that the escalating disputes over military service may lead to elections within months instead of in 2013 as scheduled, Culture Minister Limor Livnat told Israel Radio. The friction comes as Netanyahu faces mounting criticism over his posture toward Iran and stalemate in peace efforts with the Palestinians.

“The prime minister said in a very clear manner that he will not give in to extortion, and if various factions make various demands, then we’ll have elections this year,” Livnat said today.

Israel’s Supreme Court in February invalidated the so-called Tal Law that has enabled more than 50,000 students a year in ultra-Orthodox seminaries to avoid being drafted for military service, which is obligatory for Israeli Jewish men and women. Shas and United Torah Judaism, two religious parties in the coalition, are demanding a restoration of deferrals. Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, head of the Yisrael Beitenu party, has led opposition to the deferrals and is demanding that Arab citizens perform alternative non-military service.

Netanyahu has pledged to introduce a revamped measure to ensure universal national service -- either in the military or civilian alternatives.

Arab Enlistment

Netanyahu said his proposal will require that Israel’s Arab citizens, who make up almost 20 percent of the population, will have to perform national service. Although some members of the Druze and Bedouin communities serve in the army, most Arab citizens are exempt from the draft.

“The Tal Law will be replaced by a more egalitarian and just law, and I will submit it,” Netanyahu told veterans today, according to a statement e-mailed from his office.

Many Arab citizens object to Israel as a Jewish state and complain that they face discrimination by the government.

Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak yesterday dismissed criticism of their Iran policy from Yuval Diskin, former chief of Israel’s Shin-Bet internal security service.

Diskin said in an April 27 speech that Netanyahu and Barak have exaggerated Israel’s ability to mount a military attack on Iran that could stop its nuclear program, suggesting that “messianic feelings” have clouded their judgment.

Iran Concern

“I don’t have faith in the current leadership of Israel to lead us to an event of this magnitude, of war with Iran,” Diskin said in a speech, which was recorded on video and posted on the Internet.

“I have observed them from up close,” he said. “I fear very much that these are not the people I’d want at the wheel.”

Netanyahu has expressed skepticism that international sanctions will stop Iran from enriching uranium and warned that its leaders want to build nuclear weapons. President Barack Obama has said diplomacy must be given more time to work before any military options are exercised. Iran says its nuclear program is to produce electricity and is only for peaceful purposes.

Diskin also faulted Netanyahu for failing to advance peace talks with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, saying the Israeli prime minister “has no interest in negotiations.”

Netanyahu’s office issued a statement calling Diskin’s speech “irresponsible,” and noting that he had been passed over in 2010 when the prime minister appointed a new director of the Mossad intelligence agency. A text message from Barak labeled Diskin’s comments “petty” and said they derived from his “personal frustration.”

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