PM, Mofaz to form unity gov't, canceling early elections

Netanyahu, opposition leader strike deal that will draw Kadima into 94-seat coalition; Kadima, Likud factions approve agreement; Kadima tasked with leading c'tee on alternative Tal Law.

The Knesset 390 (R) (photo credit: Ammar Awad / Reuters)
The Knesset 390 (R)
(photo credit: Ammar Awad / Reuters)
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and opposition leader Shaul Mofaz approved a last-minute deal overnight Monday to form a national unity government that would postpone early elections.
The Likud and Kadima factions began emergency meetings after 2:00 a.m. to discuss developments, eventually approving the deal that will bring Netanyahu's government more political stability.
"We got important things," a Mofaz associate said. "If we wanted portfolios, we would have gotten them."
The deal passed unanimously in the Kadima faction.
Netanyahu - who arrived at the Likud meeting along with his former chief of staff Natan Eshel - told the Likud faction that contact with Mofaz over forming a unity government began a few days ago and bore fruit. Eshel apparently played a role in brokering the deal.
The agreement stipulates that Kadima will not topple the government until the official end of its term on October 22, 2013. Mofaz - who replaced Tzipi Livni just last month as the Kadima party head - will also become vice premier, and will fill in for the prime minister when he is abroad. Kadima's inclusion will bring the coalition to 94 seats.
Kadima will lead a committee that will work towards approving an alternative to the Tal Law - which allows ultra-Orthodox men to indefinitely defer army service - by the August 1 deadline. In addition, the party will also work towards changing the government system by the end of the year.
Netanyahu called President Shimon Peres - who was on a trip to Canada - to update him on the unity government deal.
The president gave the deal his blessing, saying a national unity government is good for the the nation and its well-being given the difficult challenges Israel faces.
While the Likud faction approved the agreement, not all of the party's representatives backed the deal.
"Why are we giving Kadima a lifeline after it was bleeding to death," one minister asked.
Netanyahu and Mofaz will hold a press conference Tuesday at noon to clarify details surrounding the deal.
Earlier Monday evening, as Netanyahu and Mofaz made progress, deliberations on approving early elections were purposefully filibustered.
Just a few hours before the sudden development, a bill to dissolve the Knesset passed a vote in Knesset House Committee with 12 voting in favor and one opposed.
Independence MK Einat Wilf was the only committee member to vote down the bill, which was set be sent immediately to the plenum for second and third readings.
The vote followed a stormy committee meeting where MKs asked repeatedly why the Knesset was moving to dismantle itself now.
"Please help explain to my children why we are going to an election," Kadima MK Yisrael Hasson asked.
If Netanyahu wants elections so badly, then why does he not open polls tomorrow morning at 7:00 a.m., Shas MK Nissim Ze'ev questioned.
"I am shocked to see so many MKs vote like sheep going to slaughter," Ze'ev said. "If this crazy vote was by secret ballot, it would fall." staff contributed to this report