UPDATE: More political turmoil as Israel's largest party set to split

Monday, July 23, 2012 |  Ryan Jones

UPDATE: This split now looks unlikely to happen in the short term as all but four of the Kadima members planning to defect back to the Likud have gotten cold feet. However, political wrangling continues, and now there is an effort by left-wing elements to split Kadima in that direction.

It has been a summer of unprecedented political surprises and turmoil in Israel, and the situation is only becoming more volatile as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu nears his long-time goal of breaking apart the opposition Kadima Party, currently the largest Knesset faction.

Netanyahu is presumably still irked by the creation of Kadima in 2005 by Ariel Sharon, the former leader and one of the founders of Netanyahu's own Likud Party. Kadima is made up of former members of the Likud and the left-wing Labor Party, and has therefore been seen by both sides as disrupting the traditional balance of political power in Israel.

But it appears Netanyahu is just days away from remedying that perceived problem, which reports indicating that at least seven Kadima members of Knesset will defect and return to Likud by this time next week. At least seven Kadima members must agree to leave together. Any fewer would require the MKs to remain with their current party.

Netanyahu reportedly offered cabinet positions to several of the defectors, while Kadima leader Shaul Mofaz accused the prime minister of "the lowest kind of political bribery."

Earlier this summer, Mofaz brought Kadima into Netanyahu's government, forming the largest ruling coalition in Israel's history. But less than three months after joining the coalition, Mofaz withdrew Kadima, arguing that Netanyahu was moving too slowly in implementing a new law to force Israel's Orthodox Jewish community to share the military burden, or at least do civil service.

Several Kadima members said that it was Mofaz who had resorted to cheap political tricks, and that his joining and then abruptly leaving the government had all been a ploy to boost his own electability in Israel's next election.

"Mofaz will pay the price for his mistake of entering the coalition only as a show in order to leave for no reason and slam the door behind him," said MK Otniel Schneller, one of the defectors.

If the split goes through, Kadima's size will be reduced by one-third, while Likud will grow by the same percentage, enabling Netanyahu to easily pass the state budget and other legislation.

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