In an unexpected development, Benjamin Netanyahu has canceled early elections in Israel, instead forming a unity government with Kadima, the center-right rival recently taken over by Shaul Mofaz. The elections, which would have taken place in September, will now get delayed a year.
Under the agreement, Kadima will join Netanyahu’s government and commit to supporting its policies through the end of its term in late 2013. Mofaz is expected to be appointed deputy prime minister, as well as minister without portfolio.
Mofaz will also serve as a member of the security cabinet, and Kadima members will serve as chairmen of the Knesset foreign affairs and defense committees, the economics committee, and any others that are agreed upon by both sides.
In a way, this represents Kadima getting absorbed back into the Likud Party. Kadima is a relatively new invention of Ariel Sharon’s, and really only had one election as the main opposition. They were not expected to do well in the September elections, falling out of the second position and possibly as low as fourth or fifth. This gets Mofaz a measure of power, and they delay that reckoning for a year. This comes just months after Mofaz said publicly, “The current government represents all that is wrong with Israel.”
In addition to the agreement, the deal will bring changes to the electoral process. And Mofaz’ role in the cabinet will include being “in charge of the process with the Palestinians.”
Netanyahu’s current coalition was formed with the scraps of far-right parties, so the new government will have a much larger membership, and perhaps those far-right parties will have less of a voice. Certainly Netanyahu will be less dependent on them for his majority. Dahlia Scheindlein argues that this is a good thing to eventually rid the country of the government:
The main towering advantage of postponing the elections until late 2013 is that it ensures only another year and a half of one of the worst governments Israel has ever had – a government that drove hundreds of thousands to the streets in economic desperation, pushed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict past the point of no return, and explicitly set out to mutilate Israel’s democratic process and what remained of its democratic character. If elections were held in four months, all polls bar none showed a resounding Likud victory, the same majority for the right-wing bloc, and ergo – probably a very similar government for another four years. Whatever terrible damage a super-sized coalition majority can do – it’s better to have this for 18 months, than for up to four more years.
Scheindlein adds that Labor has a chance now to be a real opposition without Kadima in the way, and that last year’s social protests have a chance to flourish without being overshadowed by the elections.
The other part of this that has people wondering is Iran policy. Some have suggested that a large unity coalition ensures that no one party gets the blame in the event of an attack. But Mofaz has publicly shown caution about an Iran military strike, and the pull from the far right on Netanyahu is less severe in a unity government. But if Netanyahu wanted to strike Iran before, he had the ability to do so, and he still does today. Fortunately this has been postponed thus far, and the tension has subsided somewhat. One hopes that will last.