Netanyahu forms surprise coalition

Netanyahu forms surprise coalition

Netanyahu forms surprise coalition

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu shakes hands with Kadima leader party Mofaz (R) in Jerusalem. Mofaz will become deputy prime minister in the new coalition. REUTERS photo

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu struck a surprise deal with the leader of the opposition party Kadima yesterday to form a national unity government and drop plans for a snap election.

Under the terms of the agreement, Shaul Mofaz, who took over leadership of the centrist Kadima party only six weeks ago, will become deputy prime minister as well as a minister without portfolio in the new cabinet, officials said. On May 6 Netanyahu had called for early elections, saying he wanted to avoid a year and a half of political instability. The current parliament’s mandate runs until October 2013.

Netanyahu said his new coalition government will hold serious talks about Iran’s nuclear program. He told a news conference along with Kadima leader that he and Mofaz already have had many discussions about Iran and will continue to hold “serious and responsible” talks on the matter. Mofaz said Kadima’s decision to remain in opposition for the past three years had been a huge error. The deal, agreed upon at a secret meeting, means the Kadima party will partner with Netanyahu’s rightist coalition to create a wide parliamentary majority reported to be the biggest in Israeli history, Reuters reported. If it is approved by Israeli Parliament, known as the Knesset, Netanyahu will able to count on a majority of 94 votes in the 120-seat assembly.

According to an outline of the deal, Kadima and Netanyahu’s rightwing Likud party agreed to replace a contentious law that allowed ultra-Orthodox Jews to defer their military service, with new legislation that would ensure a “fair and egalitarian” sharing of the burden of serving in the army. The two parties also pledged to change the system of government by the end of 2012, with Kadima MPs taking up key positions in Knesset committees covering foreign, defense and economic affairs.

New opposition: Labor
The agreement also involves a commitment to renew the diplomatic process with the Palestinians and a deal over the next state budget. “I hope that now (the Palestinians) will identify this opportunity to return to negotiations. Both sides have difficult concessions to make,” Netanyahu said. “I hope that President Abbas will use this opportunity to resume the peace negotiations because I don’t know how you advance negotiations without engaging,” he said.

Mofaz also urged the Palestinians to “show leadership for future generations” by reaching a peace agreement. The news was welcomed by Israeli President Shimon Peres, who herald the deal as beneficial to the country. “A national unity government is good for the state of Israel,” army radio reported he said. Leader of the leftwing Meretz party Zehava Galon, however, denounced the deal as a cynical political maneuver while Labor Party Chief Shelly Yachimovich criticized it as a “pact of cowards,” according to Agence France-Presse. “This is the most ridiculous zigzag in the history of Israeli politics,” she wrote on her Facebook page. Yachimovich is expected to become the leader of one of the smallest-ever opposition factions in the Knesset, with just 26 MPs remaining outside the unity government.

Mofaz took control of Kadima by playing up his security credentials and defeating the previous leader, Tzipi Livni, in the March 28 party primaries. He took over a party in crisis. Although Kadima won the most parliamentary seats in the 2009 elections it failed to form a government and multiple opinion polls have suggested it stood to lose up to half the seats it held in a new election.