Netanyahu forges unity govt, election delayed
Published Tuesday 08/05/2012 (updated) 09/05/2012 18:13
Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a session of the Knesset,
the Israeli parliament, in Jerusalem on May 7, 2012. (Reuters/Ronen Zvulun)
JERUSALEM (Reuters) -- In a surprise maneuver, Israel's parliament postponed plans to vote for an early national election on Tuesday after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu forged a deal for a broader coalition with the centrist Kadima party, officials said.
"We have been rescued from holding an early election. There will be a broad-based government," Meir Sheetrit, a senior lawmaker and former finance minister with Kadima said on Israel Radio.
The agreement, expected to be signed later on Tuesday, is destined to give Netanyahu the support of as many as 94 lawmakers in Israel's 120-member parliament and help his government survive without calling an early poll.
News of the deal negotiated secretly, called off a marathon debate being held in Israel's parliament that had been expected to culminate in a vote to dissolve itself after Netanyahu called last week for an early election to be held on Sept. 4.
After hours of deliberation, the Knesset announced early on Tuesday it would not hold a final vote for dissolution.
The Knesset also said in a statement that as the plenum was preparing to vote, Netanyahu's Likud party and the opposition Kadima party had "urgently met ... to discuss significant political developments, apparently talks for a national unity government."
Under the deal, Shaul Mofaz, a former military chief now head of Kadima after a party election ousted Tzipi Livni from that job in March, will be named vice premier in Netanyahu's government, officials said.
Kadima, with 28 seats, would add significant weight to Netanyahu's government and expectations are that if the alliance survives, Netanyahu could remain in power through the end of his term in late 2013.
Netanyahu's coalition with religious and ultra-right parties had been shaken by disputes over legislation exempting devoutly Orthodox Jews from military service, and next year's budget.
The accord stunned the political establishment and drew swift condemnation from the center-left Labour party, which had been touted in opinion polls to be on course for a resurgence at the expense of Kadima.
"This is a pact of cowards and the most contemptible and preposterous zigzag in Israel's political history," party leader Shelly Yachimovich was quoted as saying in the media.
The deal -- creating a wide parliamentary majority reported to be the biggest in Israeli history -- could give Netanyahu a freer hand to confront Iran's nuclear ambitions.
Environment Minister Gilad Erdan said the accord would help build support for potential action against Iran's atomic program which Israel views as an existential threat.
"An election wouldn't stop Iran's nuclear program. When a decision is taken to attack or not, it is better to have a broad political front, that unites the public," he told Israel Radio.
The new vice premier, Shaul Mofaz, was among the first Israeli officials to publicly moot the possibility of an attack on Iran as deputy prime minister in a former Kadima-headed government in 2008.
The Tehran-born Mofaz has been more circumspect while in the opposition, saying Israel should not hasten to break ranks with war-wary world powers that are trying to pressure Iran through sanctions and negotiations.
Israeli officials have said the next year will be crucial in seeing whether Iran is willing to back down in the face of widespread international condemnation and curb its nuclear plans. It has regularly hinted it will strike the Islamic republic if it does not pull back.