Jerusalem, May 8 – Instead of waking to an announcement of upcoming elections, Israelis got the surprising news that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had reached an agreement to add the opposition Kadima party to his government, removing the need for early elections.
The new unity coalition numbers 94 members of the 120-member Knesset – Israel’s parliament. It is the largest ruling bloc since Israel’s establishment 64 years ago.
The move allows lawmakers to discuss and vote on key social legislation prior to the next general election, which is now likely to take place in 2013.
Kadima leader Shaul Mofaz now becomes one of Netanyahu’s deputies and will act as prime minister when Netanyahu is overseas. Tehran-born Mofaz won the leadership race of Kadima last month. He is a former head of the Israeli defense forces.
Speaking just hours before agreement was reached with Mofaz, Netanyahu said the most important thing the country needs is “stability.”
"I understood we could restore stability without going to elections," Netanyahu said at a news conference on May 8.
Netanyahu said the postponement of elections could signal yet another opportunity for peace talks with the Palestinian leadership.
"It gives us the chance to advance the peace process responsibly," he said.
Mofaz told the joint news conference a majority of Israelis favor "a historical territorial compromise."
Israel wants to resume direct negotiations as soon as possible and is calling on the Palestinians to stop setting preconditions so that the core issues can be addressed in face-to-face parley.
Mofaz and Netanyahu said they will cooperate on electoral reform before the next election.