Israel scraps early elections as Kadima joins unity government


JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lauded the new government coalition including the Kadima Party as the "broadest unity government in Israeli history."

At a news conference Tuesday afternoon to announce Kadima’s agreement to join his coalition, Netanyahu said the new government would "benefit Israel" and is a way "to restore stability without elections."

Kadima leader Shaul Mofaz said he agreed to enter the government because Netanyahu showed that he was "open to issues that are a central part of Kadima’s platform."

"Our decision is a great, historic step — not blackmail," Mofaz asserted, adding that he had not asked for a position for himself in the government.

Netanyahu also said during his remarks that a broad government coalition could advance "a responsible peace process."

Israel’s planned move to early elections was scrapped early Tuesday morning when Kadima, the main opposition party, agreed to join the ruling coalition with Netanyahu’s Likud Party. The coalition includes 94 lawmakers, the largest since 1984, when the government led by Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Shamir had 97 members. israel’s largest coalition government was an emergency government formed in 1967 for the Six Day War with 111 members.

The deal caught the Israeli political establishment by surprise. During the primary campaign for Kadima’s leadership, Mofaz had vowed to keep Kadima in the opposition, telling Haaretz that he believed "the current government represents all that is wrong with Israel."

"Listen up: I won’t join Bibi’s government," Mofaz wrote on his Facebook page on March 3. "Not today, not tomorrow and not after I head Kadima on March 28. This is a bad and failed government and Kadima under my leadership will replace it in the next elections. Is that clear enough?"

Under the deal between Netanyahu and Mofaz, the prime minister reportedly agreed to make Mofaz a vice prime minister and pledged to back an alternative version of the Tal Law, which enables haredi Orthodox men to defer military service indefinitely in order to pursue religious studies.

Once the agreement was reached at about 2 a.m. Israel time, Kadima’s faction approved it unanimously, The Jerusalem Post reported.

Netanyahu called Israeli President Shimon Peres, who is on a state visit to Canada, to tell him about the decision to form a national unity government.

Peres congratulated Netanyahu on the decision and said that a national unity government "is good for the people of Israel and that the good of the state, in light of the crucial challenges facing it, requires broad national unity," according to a statement from the President’s Office.

Coalition partners Avigdor Lieberman, head of the Yisrael Beiteinu Party, and Eli Yishai of the haredi Orthodox Shas Party reportedly have endorsed the deal.

Labor Party Chairwoman Shelly Yachimovich called the deal "shady."

“This is an alliance of cowards and the most ridiculous zigzag in Israel’s political history,” she said.

Left-wing Meretz lawmaker Nitzan Horowitz called the agreement "the mother of all dirty deals.”

At the start of the news conference, Horowitz began shouting "You’ve lost all shame!" and "This is corruption in the fullest meaning of the word." He was escorted from the room by security guards.

On Monday evening, the Knesset had been planning to dissolve itself as the first move to new elections, passing a preliminary bill to dissolve by a vote of 119 to 1, according to Israeli media reports. Analysts had been projecting that Kadima, the Knesset’s largest faction with 28 seats, would lose about half its seats.

Israel’s next regularly scheduled election is slated for October 2013.

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