Netanyahu in surprise coalition deal to stave off election

Wed, May 9, 2012, 01:00

ISRAELI PRIME minister Benjamin Netanyahu has struck a deal with the leader of the opposition Shaul Mofaz to bring his centrist Kadima party into the coalition, shelving plans to hold early elections later this year.

The dramatic development came in the early hours of yesterday morning when members of the Knesset parliament were about to vote for the second and third readings of a bill to hold the elections on September 4th, having earlier overwhelmingly passed the bill’s first reading.

The bombshell took political commentators by surprise, and only a handful of Knesset members were aware of the secret talks being held between the two men.

Under the deal, Kadima committed to remain in the coalition until the end of its term in October 2013.

The Netanyahu government now comprises an unprecedented 94 members of the 120-seat Knesset, from seven different parties.

Speaking at a joint news conference, Mr Netanyahu said that, above all, Israel needs stability.

He explained that he never wanted early elections but was forced to initiate such a move when it became clear that the stability of the coalition was threatened by a number of contentious domestic issues.

He said the unity deal with Kadima provided stability without the need for elections.

Mr Netanyahu said the new coalition would focus on four things: drawing up a new law on the military draft this summer to create an “historic redistribution of the burden”; passing the budget; reforming the electoral system, and advancing “a responsible peace process” with the Palestinians.

For Mr Mofaz, who became head of Kadima after winning a primary contest in March, the deal provides an escape from what promised to be a disastrous election, with the polls projecting the biggest party in the Knesset would plummet from its 28 seats to 10.

Asked at the news conference about a clear-cut promise he made never to join the Netanyahu coalition, and the fact that only a few months ago he termed the prime minister a liar, Mr Mofaz said they had now managed to put their differences behind them.

Mr Mofaz said the new broad-based coalition will be able to make historic changes on drafting the ultra-Orthodox and reforming the electoral system.

He will become a minister without portfolio and deputy premier.

He will also be drafted onto to the all-important security cabinet which takes the key military and diplomatic decisions. Kadima will also chair the Knesset’s two most important committees.

Labor (sic) Party leader Shelly Yachimovich, who will replace Mr Mofaz as head of a very truncated opposition in the Knesset, described the deal as “a pact of cowards and the most contemptible and preposterous zigzag in Israel’s political history”.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said last night he was ready to engage with Mr Netanyahu on a Middle East peace agreement if he proposes “anything promising or positive”.