Bibi’s new bedfellow

JUST hours after setting a September date for elections, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stunned the country by cancelling them and making his government one of the strongest in Israel’s history. At bedtime on Monday, Israel had a collapsing government and was headed for September elections.

After some late-night wheeling and dealing by Netanyahu, by Tuesday morning polls were cancelled and he had the loyalty of a historic 94 of the Knesset’s 120 seats. He pulled the masterstroke by cutting a deal with opposition party Kadima to enter the government. Its leader, Shaul Mofaz, who said less than two months ago that the current administration “represents all that is wrong with Israel” and declared that he would not join, will serve as Deputy Prime Minister. The two men are hoping to use the unity government to draft Charedim to the army, by replacing the Tal law, which exempts them, with a more “equitable” law when it expires in August.

They have also promised to promote electoral reform. “He will be the first prime minister in more than five-and-a-half decades to complete a full term.” Hami Zubadia Political scientist Netanyahu said in a statement that “unity restores stability”, adding: “A broad national unity government is good for security, good for the economy and good for the people of Israel.” Mofaz said the deal “puts the national interest at centre stage”. But there has been condemnation of the agreement from left and right.

Labour Party leader Shelly Yechimovitch said it was an “alliance of cowards and the most ridiculous zigzag in Israel’s political history”. Danny Danon, de-facto leader of Likud’s right flank, told The AJN: “This agreement is not what the voters of the Likud expected from their government. They do not want a partnership with the Kadima ­opportunists.”

Yet whatever his critics say, Netanyahu appears to have set himself up for a rare achievement in a country where coalitions are famously stable and elections come around with exceeding regularity.

“He will be the first prime minister in more than five-and-a-half decades to complete a full term,” predicted Hani Zubadia, an expert on political parties and political scientist at the Max Stern Yezreel Valley College. He told The AJN: “This will position him very strongly for the next election in 2013.”