Interior Minister Aryeh Deri (Shas) told Ynet on Tuesday that he believes early elections are all but guaranteed, estimating Israelis will likely go to the polls in March 2019.
"Everyone knows the matter can be resolved," Deri said about the Israeli Defense Service Law, which could lead to the collapse of the coalition over the issue of drafting ultra-Orthodox youth to the IDF.
However, he said, the issue "will not be resolved without effort, and no one is making such an effort. That is why the legislation won't pass."
The existing Israeli Defense Service Law expires on December 2, 2018, after the High Court of Justice deemed it unconstitutional, meaning that the Knesset is obliged to pass an alternative law before then.
Last year, the HCJ made a majority ruling canceling an amendment to the Israeli Defense Service Law ratified by the Knesset almost two years prior, which lowered the annual quota on the number of Haredim required to draft into the IDF.
The new proposed legislation includes planned cuts to the yeshivot's budgets and the use of economic incentives to pressure the Torah study institutions to encourage enlistment, but no criminal sanctions.
The enlistment objectives, as stated in the proposal, are that 3,000 yeshiva students will be drafted in the first stage and 600 will volunteer for national service. The plan will be given a two-year adaptation period, in which sanctions won’t be imposed if the yeshivot fail to meet the draft quotas. In the third year, yeshivot who fail to encourage enlistment will be hit with economic sanctions if they drop below a 95-percent target.
The ultra-Orthodox factions in the government coalition vehemently oppose the proposed bill, with Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman announcing that he would resign from the government if the law was approved.
"During the last party leaders' meeting, I couldn't understand clearly whether the prime minister wants to go to elections or not. I don't think he has a fully formed opinion on the matter," the Shas leader told Ynet. "One thing I do know—no one convened us, no one sat down with us and the Defense Ministry to see how we could reach a formula that would be acceptable to everyone."
Deri estimated that "after the municipal elections—barring any unexpected changes—we'll agree on a date" for the general elections. "It won't be in January or February, but it might be around March."
He was not, however, concerned about the future of his Shas party, telling Ynet that "Shas is actually one of the most veteran parties in Israel, and it will continue being strong and be part of the next government... I spent a lot of time out in the field, I see the results, and I'm very optimistic."
Five years after Shas's founder and spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef passed away, Deri was asked what the rabbi would've said if he could see the party today.
"He would've said 'Be strong and of good course, be strong and be blessed' for continuing this massive endeavor despite all of the difficulties. I have no doubt he would've strengthened and encouraged me, and tell me 'Keep listening to the Council of Torah Sages,'" he said.