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, according to Reuters.
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.
Details of the agreement were still to be finalized, AFP reported.
But according to reports, they included an understanding that Kadima would back Netanyahu in return for changes to a contentious law that allows ultra-Orthodox Jews to defer their military service.
Members of Kadima would also take up key positions including on the Knesset's foreign affairs, defense and economic affairs committees.
The deal also involves a commitment to restart the peace process with the Palestinians and an agreement on the next state budget.
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.
Zehava Galon, leader of the leftwing Meretz party, denounced the deal as a cynical political maneuver while Labor party chief Shelly Yachimovich slammed the “pact of cowards.”
“This is the most ridiculous zigzag in the history of Israeli politics,” she wrote on her Facebook page. “With this final burial of Kadima, we have received a rare and important opportunity to lead the opposition, and will do so with energy and faith.”
Even Mofaz had ruled out taking his party into a coalition with Netanyahu, whom he had recently called “a liar” and “Israel’s worst prime minister.”
Ahead of the Kadima March vote, Mofaz wrote that under his leadership the party wouldn’t join Netanyahu’s “bad, failed and insensitive government.”
“Kadima under my leadership will replace it in the next elections,” he wrote on his Facebook page.
In an interview with Israel’s Haaretz newspaper, he also denounced the prime minister’s handling of the Iranian nuclear crisis.