Wriggle room

Wriggle room

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s government has received a shot in the arm with the centrist Kadima party, the largest in parliament, joining the ruling coalition.

Hours before the deal with Kadima was finalised, Netanyahu had called for general elections in September, a full year ahead of scheduled polls in October 2013. Now, with Kadima’s support he commands 94 out of 120 seats in the parliament, prompting him to call off the September polls.

A rock solid ruling coalition will make Netanyahu’s position unassailable in the remaining 17 months of his term. Kadima’s decision to join the government is opportunistic. It was expected to perform badly in the event of elections in September. Support for the party plunged in recent months, especially after Shaul Mofaz became its leader in March. In a bid to stave off early elections, Mofaz decided to join hands with Netanyahu. Ironically, days before he took over Kadima’s leadership, Mofaz had argued that Netanyahu’s government ‘represents all that is wrong with Israel.’

Netanyahu’s government has been under pressure from within. His extreme right wing allies have been opposing his attempts at reforming the Tal Law, which exempts ultra-orthodox Jews from compulsory military service. The Prime Minister has been pushing to make military service compulsory for all. With Kadima on board, he can push this reform without worrying too much over the political consequences.

Netanyahu has been under pressure too from hardliners within his Likud Party who object to the government demolishing settlements in the West Bank that were declared illegal by the Supreme Court. Kadima’s entry into the government will give Netanyahu more wriggle room.
His domestic situation less fragile, Netanyahu will be able to focus attention on regional and global issues

Israeli hawks are calling on Netanyahu to take a tough line vis-a-vis Iran’s nuclear programme as well as the Palestinians. The Likud-Kadima deal provides opportunity for the prime minister to make bold concessions to the Palestinians without fearing a backlash from the extreme right. Should he take the latter path, he could steer Israel towards living in peace with the Palestinians. That would enable him to emerge a taller leader on the world stage. By following the cry of the hawks, Netanyahu will keep Israel and the region mired in insecurity.

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