Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Kadima Chairman Shaul Mofaz finalized the surprising unity agreement hours before the Knesset was expected to approve its own dissolution and set September 4th as the date of the next elections.
PM Netanyahu announced that Kadima's Mofaz will be appointed deputy PM and minister without portfolio, while also being included in Israel’s security cabinet. Mofaz told Kadima members the party will likely get more portfolios later on, apparently in 2013. As part of the deal, Kadima will also chair the Knesset's Economics Committee.
Netanyahu after dramatic faction meeting (Photo: Ohad Zwigenberg)
Senior government officials said they had no early knowledge of the plan to form a unity government. Key coalition figures Avigdor Lieberman (Yisrael Beiteinu) and Eli Yishai (Shas) endorsed the deal, Netanyahu said.
"I didn't want to go to elections," Netanyahu said. "But having detected rifts I decided to go ahead."
Netanyahu phoned President Shimon Peres, who is currently visiting Canada, and informed him of the developments. Peres expressed his support for the move and congratulated the prime minister.
Both Netanyahu and Mofaz convened their respective factions, which approved the unity deal. The PM informed Likud Knesset members that as part of the new coalition agreement, a new bill that would regularize the issue of haredi enlistment into the IDF will be tabled by the end of June. The Kadima-Likud deal also calls for changes in Israel’s government system and approval of the next state budget.
Mofaz leaving Kadima faction meeting (Photo: Ohad Zwigenberg)
Mofaz told Kadima members that the “unprecedented deal” would allow the government to produce equality in carrying the burden of military service.
“We did a great thing for the sake of the State of Israel,” he said. “I don’t want government portfolios, even for myself.”
Following Tuesday’s drama, the next elections will likely be held, as planned, in October 2013.
Senior Likud officials estimated that Netanyahu decided to lead the unity move after realizing the extent of public support for changing the law on haredi enlistment into the IDF. Meanwhile, Mofaz endorsed the deal after seeing Kadima plummeting in the polls and heading for a disastrous showing in the September elections, which have now been averted.
Both leaders were also interested in undermining the chances of rookie politician Yair Lapid, who was set to win more than 10 Knesset seats in the elections according to the polls.
The move was orchestrated by Netanyahu's former bureau chief Natan Eshel and Mofaz's aide Lior Horev.
Minisers Gideon Sa'ar and Yuval Steinitz congratulated Netanyahu and welcomed the new budget agreement formed between the two parties. Ministers Silvan Shalom and Moshe Kahlon, on the other hand, had expressed reservations about the deal during the faction meeting.
Moran Azoulay contributed to the story
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