Israel scraps early elections as Kadima joins unity government

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israel’s planned move to early elections was scrapped when Israel’s main opposition party, Kadima, agreed to join the ruling coalition with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party.

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The deal, which was reached in the wee hours of Tuesday morning, caught the Israeli political establishment by surprise. During the primary campaign for Kadima’s leadership, Shaul Mofaz, now the party leader, 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 2:00 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

“This is an alliance of cowards and the most ridiculous zigzag in Israel’s political history,” Labor Party Chairwoman Shelly Yachimovich said Tuesday of the new government coalition, calling it a “shady deal.”

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

Earlier, 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, currently 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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