efe-epaBy Ana Cárdenes Jerusalem

Enduring disagreements between strict Jewish and secular sectors of Israeli society are once again at the fore of the political conversation in the country and present a major obstacle for Benjamin Netanyahu to overcome in his endeavor to form a functioning coalition.

Israeli president, Reuven Rivlin, is expected to order Prime Minister Netanyahu to begin coalition discussions on Wednesday.

In December, Netanyahu called for early elections ostensibly because he was unable to pass legislation extending military conscription to parts of the Orthodox community, which largely ignores compulsory military service on religious grounds.

As predicted, Netanyahu won the elections on Apr. 9 but he faces a tough time forming a new government.

For "Bibi," the problem is a familiar one: the pious Haredi Jews are reticent to let their young men join the ranks of the Israeli military while the more secular elements insist the law must be applied equally across Israeli society.

Netanyahu, whose Likud party has 35 seats in the Knesset, needs the support of Ultra-Orthodox parties like Shas and United Torah Judaism, who have a combined 16 parliamentary seats.

He also needs the backing of Yisrael Beiteinu, the right-wing party led by former defense minister Avigdor Lieberman, who laid claim to five seats in the recent legislative elections.

With that and the likely support of the Union of Right-Wing Parties and Kulanu, Netanyahu would surpass the 65 Knesset seats needed for a majority.

The centrist Blue and White coalition, which matched Likud's seat-share in the elections, lacks coalition options and is to lead the opposition.

Lieberman, who resigned from the head of the defense ministry in November to protest a government ceasefire with Hamas in the Gaza Strip, has already said his participation in a future Likud-led coalition would depend on the approval of the Ultra-Orthodox military conscription bill.

"If we're forced to choose between giving up on the draft law to remain in the coalition, or sitting in the opposition, we will go to new elections," he said earlier in the week.

The campaign leaders for the UJT also pushed a message that they would not be afraid to head back to the polls if the debacle of the military bill was not resolved.

Ultra-orthodox parties tend to command a loyal political base.

Following a party meeting on Tuesday, UJT released a statement saying its parliamentary group would defend the rights of all of those studying the Torah and all those dedicating their lives to the Torah to be exempted from military service.

UJT representatives and members of Yisrael Beiteinu were due to meet in the coming days to thrash out an agreement over the controversial draft law.

The debate cannot be ignored, given that Israel's Supreme Court has given the parliament until July to pass legislation on the matter.

The top court rejected previous proposals on the grounds they did not respect the principle of equality.

If neither the UJT nor Yisrael Beiteinu cedes on its position, Israel could go back to the polls, according to political analysis Ben-Dor Yemini, writing for Yediot Aharonot.

The debacle over the draft law is not the only issue on the Ultra-Orthodox parties' agenda.

Other topics likely to surface in coalition negotiations could include proposals to ban working on the Jewish Shabbat, and the recent concession to include a non-Orthodox mixed-gender prayer area at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. EFE-EPA

aca/jt/rb