In a dramatic turn of events, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced early Tuesday morning that early general elections tentatively scheduled for September 4 were cancelled, and that he had forged a unity government with the opposition Kadima Party.
The move took the entire country and all but the few Knesset members privy to the unity talks by complete surprise. Netanyahu's announcement came just hours before the Knesset was to officially dissolve itself, at the request of Netanyahu.
The deal requires Kadima to support government policies until the end of its term in October 2013. In return, Netanyahu will back Kadim's proposal to replace Israel's Tal Law, which until now had allowed Orthodox Jewish men to indefinitely defer military service. A growing number of Israelis have been protesting the Tal Law, insisting that it allows a large segment of society to get out of national service, even while that same segment enjoys the benefit of so much government welfare.
Netanyahu and new Kadima leader Shaul Mofaz also agreed that by the end of this year they would table a proposal for revamping Israel's electoral system. No details were available at press time.
The unity deal is a boon for Mofaz, who took the reins of Kadima just a month ago. It was predicted that Kadima would have lost more than half of its current 28 Knesset seats in early elections. The deal also tremendously benefits Netanyahu, who is now head of one of the largest governing coalitions in Israel's history, granting him unprecedented stability for the next 18 months.
In addition to the political benefits for both parties, there is also a lot of speculation that the sudden unity deal was as much about Iran as anything else. If Israel is going to strike Iran's nuclear facilities, and experts agree a strike would have to happen this year, it is desirable that Israel be led by a unity government at a time of such crisis.