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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Kadima Chairman Shaul Mofaz unexpectedly announced today that Kadima will be joining the Likud-led coalition, forming a unity government and averting early elections. At a BICOM conference call shortly after the announcement, Kadima MK Yochanan Plesner and Channel 10 political editor Nadav Eyal discussed the reasons for the agreement, as well as its likely impact on domestic politics and Israel’s international agenda.
Citing the main aspects of the agreement between Likud and Kadima, MK Plesner emphasised the need to reform Israel’s system of governance and ensure greater integration of ultra-Orthodox Jews in military service. Plesner noted that the current climate presents an “historic opportunity” for Kadima to join a strong coalition of all the major political forces in Israel, which could effectively deal with these challenges. Mofaz will also be included in the security cabinet, and will act as a “moderating force” in the crucial decisions Israel faces.
Plesner added that Kadima had secured an agreement with Netanyahu to “reignite the peace process” with the Palestinians, and would counterbalance the right wing parties in the coalition that had constrained Netanyahu before now, though he acknowledged that this element of the agreement was more ambiguous and open to interpretation. He said that Kadima will also work to address the social needs of Israelis in the coming budget debate. These two issues were only generally addressed in the coalition agreement between the two parties, and Plesner noted that the burden of delivering these issues lies with Kadima and will be assessed in the months ahead.
Channel 10 political editor Nadav Eyal presented a more sceptical assessment of the surprising deal. Eyal described the agreement as an achievement for PM Netanyahu, who naturally would like to remain in office and expand the stability of his coalition. Netanyahu now leads an unprecedentedly broad coalition of 94 MKs, and the only party that presented a viable political alternative is now supporting his coalition.
According to Eyal’s analysis, the conscription of ultra-Orthodox men to military service has been an insurmountable obstacle for numerous governments and it is unlikely that this government will be the one to secure a dramatic solution. The deal was rather a result of political calculations: knowing Kadima’s poor standing in the polls and fearing a defeat if elections were held in September, Mofaz opted to join the coalition and postpone elections until October 2013.
Plesner and Eyal also addressed the possible impact of the new unity deal on efforts to block Iran’s nuclear ambitions and the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Plesner noted that no differences exist between Kadima and other members of the coalition on the need to prevent Iran from reaching a nuclear ability. Mofaz has stated in the past his belief that Israel must work with its allies in the region and internationally, rather than act unilaterally, to ensure that the Iranian threat is kept at bay and he will continue to push for this as a member of the security cabinet.
On this issue, Nadav Eyal added that a possible confrontation with Iran in the coming months, and the need for broad Israeli support for such a move would be the only “politically acceptable” explanation Mofaz would be able to present to his voters to justify his entry into the coalition.
More broadly, Eyal suggested that Kadima’s entry into a unity coalition with Likud presents a dramatic realignment of Israel’s political map. Ariel Sharon’s 2005 decision to split Likud created a new centrist political force in Israeli politics. Since then, Kadima inherited Labour’s historical role as the only alternative to Likud. This process is now being reversed and Kadima’s leaders will eventually seek to reunite with Likud. “The masks are off”, Eyal said, “and this process will enable the central-left, and the Labour Party in particular, to regain its strength and offer an alternative to Likud.”