ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
In Israel, the biggest political coalition in history just got a lot smaller. The centrist party, Kadima, has pulled out of the government a scant two months after it joined. The split came over reforming Israel's military draft law.
NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro tells us more from Tel Aviv.
LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, BYLINE: When Kadima joined Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government, it was touted as a coup for all concerned. Netanyahu was anointed the king of Israeli politics after he became the head of the largest coalition in Israel's history. And Kadima was able to avoid competing in early elections, with opinion polls showing it would have been decimated.
But today, Kadima's head, Shaul Mofaz, he could not come to an agreement with the prime minister on a new law that would make ultra Orthodox Jews subject to the draft.
SHAUL MOFAZ: (Foreign language spoken)
GARCIA-NAVARRO: We will continue to fight for an equal burden, he announced, outside of government.
Kadima wants all ultra Orthodox Jews to serve in the military or to do community service, with penalties for those who fail to comply. Up until now, ultra religious Jews have been exempted under the so-called Tal Law. That law is set to expire on August 1st. But Netanyahu and his religious coalition partners want a more gradual approach.
Reuven Hazan is chair of the Political Science Department at Hebrew University.
REUBEN HAZAN: Kadima gave Netanyahu and Likud the option of moving to the center right. And the ultra religious parties gave him the option of sticking with the ultra religious. And he made his decision.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: That decision, to stick with the right, ensures Netanyahu's political survival. His coalition, while smaller, still allows him to govern but it comes at a cost. Most Israelis overwhelmingly support a universal draft. And so says Hazan...
HAZAN: He's given Kadima an issue to run on should there be early elections, whereas just over two months ago they were dead in the water and almost on the verge of annihilation.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Amit Segal is a political commentator for Israel's Channel 2. He says only a few months ago, Netanyahu looked unbeatable. But this fight over the draft as bruised him.
Israel's Knesset will start its summer recess next week and it won't be back in session until October. It's expected that early elections will then be called, setting up a vote for 2013. In the meantime, in the absence of a new draft law, Israel's defense minister says in effect the military will be allowed to decide who to call up and when.
Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News, Tel Aviv. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.