Israel says clock ticking after Iran talks fail


Israel has responded to the failure of the latest nuclear talks between world powers and Iran with a familiar refrain: sanctions must be ramped up while the clock ticks down toward possible military action.

With diplomacy at an impasse, there is satisfaction among Israeli leaders at what they see as a tough line taken by the West in the negotiations on curbing Iran’s nuclear ambitions, Israeli political sources said on Thursday.

A member of the British negotiating team quietly visited Israel on Wednesday to brief officials on this week’s Moscow talks, the sources said, and new U.S. and European sanctions against Iran are due to come into effect in the next two weeks.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak stuck closely to his stated line, without offering any new sense of urgency, when asked by the Washington Post how much more time Israel can allow for diplomacy to work.

“I don’t want to pretend to set timelines for the world,” he said, “but we have said loud and clear that it cannot be a matter of weeks but it (also) cannot be a matter of years”.

Preparations for any strike against Iran, which Israel and Western powers suspect is trying to develop the capacity to build a nuclear bomb, are closely guarded in Israel.

But Barak said that even in the United States, which has counseled against jumping the gun while a diplomatic drive with Iran is under way, “at least on a technical level, there are a lot of preparations”.

Iran and six world powers – the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany – failed to secure a breakthrough in Moscow at what was the third round of the latest diplomatic initiative, and set no date for more political talks.

DEMANDS

Last month, and again in Moscow, the powers asked Iran to close the Fordow underground facility where uranium is being enriched to 20-percent fissile purity, and to ship any stockpile out of the country, demands that come close to Israel’s.

Israeli Vice Premier Shaul Mofaz held talks with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Washington on Wednesday.

“I explained that after the failure of the … talks in Moscow, the West must impose a full oil embargo on Iran and tough financial sanctions,” Mofaz said on his Facebook page, adding: “In parallel, preparations for other options must continue.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has not commented publicly on the Moscow talks. He had complained that the months of talking had given Iran a “freebie” to continue enrichment.

The right-wing leader has been cautioned by former Israeli security chiefs against ordering attacks on Iran, amid skepticism about how effective Israeli air strikes would be.

Iran, which has called for Israel’s demise, says its nuclear program is designed for energy production alone. Israel, widely believed to be the Middle East’s only nuclear power, says a nuclear-armed Iran would pose a threat to its existence.

Barak, in the newspaper interview, held out little hope that diplomacy would persuade Iran to bend.

“By the third meeting in a negotiation, you know whether the other party intends to reach an agreement or, alternatively, whether he is trying to play for time to avoid a decision,” he said.

“It seems to me that the Iranians keep defying and deceiving the whole world. But it’s up to the participants in the negotiations to reach this conclusion. We cannot afford to spend another three rounds of this nature just to allow the Iranians to keep maneuvering.”

Weighing into the debate, Israeli President Shimon Peres told an audience in Jerusalem: “There’s not much time. If the Iranians … don’t heed the warnings, the calls and the economic sanctions, the world will look to other options.”

Additional reporting by Crispian Balmer; Editing by Kevin Liffey

Editorial Cartoon: Sidecar


Team of Rivals


Stability and order, those are the pillars that enable a democratically elected politician to successfully pursue their agenda. And stability and order are exactly what Benjamin Netanyahu, prime minister of Israel, has guaranteed for himself and for his party by creating a new national unity government with his rivals.

This new national unity government should have come as no surprise.

The new coalition now controls 94 of 120 Knesset seats. Never before in the history of Israeli politics has the governing coalition been so broad, so strong and so stable. Kadima, Netanyahu’s rival party, under its recently ousted leader Tzippi Livni would not have entered into a coalition with Likud. Shaul Mofaz, the newly elected leader of Kadima, has done what Livni could not. He has, in his own words, ‘corrected a historic wrong.’

Mofaz knows that Kadima belonged in the coalition from the very beginning. In 2009, Israel’s last election, Kadima garnered twenty eight seats, the largest number of seats of any party – but they could not form a government. Likud, with twenty seven seats and Netanyahu at the helm, formed a government along with the Labor party which is ostensibly to the left of Kadima, the central party.

The newly elected head of Kadima is a perfect partner for the Likud leader. Shaul Mofaz is a hawk on issues of security. He served as defense minister under Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and was a successful chief of staff of the IDF, Israel’s army. He is Iranian by birth, born in Teheran, to parents who came, originally, from Isfahan. His given name was Shahram Mofazzez Zadeh, a very ethnic sounding name Shaul Mofaz has the ring of a true Israeli name. Mofaz deeply understands Iranians, not just their language but also their mind set. He has a more liberal point of view than does Netanyahu on economics and social welfare. They are the perfect counter balance to each other.

Kadima is really a center- center/left party. And Likud is center center/right. The coalition they have formed is now strongly center based. It is so strongly center that even if a party or two on either side of the spectrum should decide to leave the coalition it will have no impact on the stability of the government.

This is not an insider baseball issue. The ramifications of this newly formed coalition in Israel will not affect only Israeli society. This broad unity government under the leadership of Benjamin Netanyahu and Shaul Mofaz has carte blanch on issues connected to security, Iran, and the Palestinians peace process issues of vital import to the greater region and to the West.

How and why? I’ll explain.

One of the most important messages this newly created coalition sends out is a message to Iran. Israel’s electorate and their ruling parties are now totally aligned on the issue of the dangers of Iran. Despite the recent and very public debate and critique about if, when or how to deal with Iran the only issue to be dealt with now is timing. The Israeli message to Iran is clear: your nuclear technology and capability threatens us, we will deal with it, we just have to decide when.

The Israeli government is now almost totally united on issues of security. That means that when the government decides to strike there will be no need to break ranks. Iran has to realize that now, more than ever before, Israel is poised to strike. And that is a frightening reality for the United States and by extension the greater Western world on the eve of a US presidential election.

Will this throw a wrench into the Obama presidential campaign and destroy his plan to use Iran as a lever to help win the election? People might ask what is the Obama plan on Iran and do they have one worked out and the answer is that they are still planning the plan. Now the Obama plan, whatever it may turn out to be, will have little impact. The Israelis have the plan, the means and the unity to proceed on their own.

The newly formed coalition government of Israel is also united on the peace process. That ball is now in the Palestinians’ court. It is the Palestinians who must decide to pursue peace or not to pursue peace.

Unlike the Americans, the Israelis have concluded that the Palestinians are not ready to move ahead. They have concluded that the Palestinians want far too much and do not want to compromise. So Israel is simply waiting. Of course, Israel realizes that the next generation of Palestinian leadership may be even less accommodating neighbors, but the Israelis have had enough of giving with no Palestinian follow through. Now, with no pressure from rival parties and with no need to capitulate to external pressure, Israel can comfortably adopt a wait and see policy vis a vis the Palestinians.

Internal domestic issues will still be confronted, debated and fought over in Israel—that will not change. And some parties may bolt from the Netanyahu/Mofaz coalition. But the coalition will remain strong. One thing is certain: Israel’s coalition and governing party is more stable now than it has been in years.

Mofaz approved as minister, Yachimovich named opposition leader


Kadima party chairman Shaul Mofaz was approved as a government minister and Labor party chairwoman Shelly Yachimovich was appointed head of the opposition.

Mofaz was approved as a minister without portfolio and as a deputy prime minister by the Knesset plenum on Wednesday by a vote of 71 to 23. He was sworn in after the vote.

The vote was held up after some opposition lawmakers claimed that Mofaz and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had made secret oral coalition agreements in addition to the agreements being voted on, including that other Kadima lawmakers would be appointed as government ministers. Netanyahu denied the accusations, saying that there had been discussions of other issues but that they had not reached the level of agreement.

Following the approval of the new coalition agreement, Yachimovich was appointed Mofaz’s successor as head of the opposition.

For new Israeli coalition, haredi army exemptions issue is front and center


Israel’s new unity government may not alter Jerusalem’s strategy for curbing Iran’s nuclear weapons program or do much to revive the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

But it could dramatically change something at home about which a huge number of Israelis care deeply: haredi Orthodox exemptions from military service.

For years, haredi issues have been something of a third rail in Israeli politics. Nearly every government in recent years has needed the haredi parties to cobble together a governing coalition, rendering haredi entitlement programs like the military exemption politically untouchable.

This long has irritated Israelis who serve in the army and resent that the haredim, by and large, do not serve yet draw all sorts of entitlement payments from the state.

But with Shaul Mofaz’s decision to bring Kadima and its 28 seats into the ruling coalition, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu no longer needs the haredi parties to keep his government in power. They could pull out, and it would make no real difference—at least, until the next elections, scheduled for October 2013.

The question now is how far Netanyahu will go in taking advantage of a historic opportunity to end this special treatment afforded to haredi Israelis.

The question is likely to hinge on political considerations.

There already is movement on putting together an alternative to the Tal Law, which granted haredi Israeli men military exemptions but was struck down several months ago by Israel’s Supreme Court. The court ordered that an alternative to the law be put into place by Aug. 1.

Crafting an alternative to the Tal Law is one of the top four priorities set forth by the new government coalition. The other three are passing a comprehensive budget, reforming the structure of government and making progress toward peace. The budget issue is expected to be resolved one way or the other, as budgets generally are, but there is something pie-in-the-sky about the other two priorities.

That leaves the Tal Law alternative as the potential historical legacy of this 18-month alliance between Netanyahu and Mofaz.

On Tuesday, that alternative began to take shape.

The Jerusalem Post reported that, under the Mofaz-Netanyahu deal, haredi exemptions from the army would be replaced by a Basic Law—the Israeli equivalent to a constitutional amendment—requiring all citizens to perform military or civilian service.

Last month, Kadima proposed instituting a universal military draft within five years. Under the Kadima plan, all Israelis either would serve in the military or do national service in one of a variety of fields, among them education, health and domestic security. Those who fail to comply would be barred from receiving any state funding.

The question is whether such a plan—which would radically alter the relationship between the state and its rapidly growing haredi Orthodox population—could survive opposition from Israel’s haredi Orthodox parties.

On the one hand, Netanyahu doesn’t need them to survive in office until the next elections. Indeed, if he were to push through such legislation, it could earn his Likud party much broader support, including from secular and more centrist voters, the next time Israel goes to the polls.

On the other hand, it could cost Netanyahu in October 2013 if his Likud party wins the election, Kadima fares poorly and Netanyahu needs the haredi parties to form a coalition.

Those considerations, say political analysts, will mitigate whatever changes are made to haredi exemptions.

There are some other factors at play.

For one thing, while in principle most Israelis would like haredim to be subject to the same requirements of service demanded of all other Israelis, in practice the army does not want a sudden flood of tens of thousands of new haredi recruits. The Israel Defense Forces lacks the infrastructure to absorb them, both in numbers and operationally. What would the army do with 10,000 new recruits who are religiously opposed to significant interaction with female instructors?

For another thing, a sudden, dramatic transformation of the relationship between haredim and the state would run up against opposition not only from haredi parties in the Knesset, but from haredi citizens. They would see the sudden change as a broadside against their way of life, and mass demonstrations and even riots likely would ensue. It would make the haredi riots against parking lots opening on the Sabbath and a Modern Orthodox girls’ school in Beit Shemesh seem like child’s play.

The reality is that Israel doesn’t want all these haredim in the army; what Israel wants is more haredi men working, paying taxes and integrated into Israeli society.

Under the current system, haredi men must stay in yeshiva until their 30s to keep their military exemption (religious women are currently granted exemptions from army service upon request). That has helped bankrupt the haredi community and nurture a black market economy in which many haredi men work surreptitiously and do not pay taxes.

Changing the rule would help drive haredim into the workforce and into better-paying jobs. That would help Israel’s tax rolls, reduce haredi dependency on welfare and help integrate haredim into Israeli society.

There is great debate within the haredi community about whether or not to welcome these changes. Some haredim see it as key to the economic and social survival of their community. But other haredi leaders see it as opening up a slipperly slope away from the yeshiva and Jewish observance and toward the dangerous temptations of modern, secular Israel.

Ultimately, whatever change comes to the haredi community is likely to come gradually.

Kadima has proposed exempting 1,000 haredi yeshiva students from the military draft and allowing others to defer military service on a year-by-year basis while they are studying in yeshiva. According to a report in The Jerusalem Post, Likud is likely to propose an alternative that instead would establish a minimum number of haredi participants in national service programs that would increase every year, without a cap on those claiming yeshiva-related exemptions from service.

For now, the haredi parties appear to be taking a wait-and-see approach.

“There can’t be a situation in Israel in 2012 where someone who wants to study Torah will not be able to do so,” Yakov Litzman of the United Torah Judaism party told the Post. “But as long as the principle of ‘torato Omunato’ [Torah is one’s work] is preserved, UTJ will remain in the coalition.”

No change in White House approach to Israel following new coalition


The Obama administration will not change its policy approach toward Israel in light of the new government coalition, a White House spokesman said.

“[A] new coalition government in Israel certainly will not affect our policy approach, and we continue to have very good relations with leaders in Israel and we have significant support for—we provide significant support for and coordination with Israel’s military on security interests, and share a lot of information when it comes to intelligence,” White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters Tuesday morning on Air Force One. The reporters were accompanying President Obama to Albany, N.Y., where he was delivering a speech.

On Monday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that he had forged a 94-seat unity government with the entrance of the left-of-center Kadima party into the coalition.

In answer to a reporter’s question, Carney also said that the White House is working “very closely with the Israelis on the Iran issue.”

“On Iran, our position is as it was, which is we absolutely share Israel’s concern about the threat posed by Iran’s nuclear ambitions,” he said. “We have pursued a policy approach that has effectively isolated Iran and united the world in identifying Iran’s behavior as the problem. And we have, through sanctions and other means, made clear to the Iranians that there is a high price to pay for their refusal to abide by their international obligations.”

Carney also said the White House believes that the Israelis and the Palestinians “need to take steps towards peace. They need to refrain from actions that make it harder to reach the kind of—well, to reach the negotiating table, where they can work on a solution that still needs to be found.”

Israelis protest new government


Hundreds of Israelis demonstrated against the new coalition government.

More than 1,000 protested in Tel Aviv, and hundreds in Jerusalem, against the deal struck between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the opposition Kadima Party. A protest also was held in Beersheba.

Former Kadima chairman Tzipi Livni, who resigned from the Knesset earlier this month, said at the Tel Aviv rally that the young demonstrators deserved a politics “of principles and not of survival.”

The demonstration was planned on Facebook by some of last summer’s social protest leaders, according to Haaretz.

At least seven people, including journalists, were arrested during the Tel Aviv demonstration after police declared it illegal and prevented protesters from marching in the streets to the Likud Party headquarters.

Hundreds of Israelis take to the streets to protest unity deal between Netanyahu and Mofaz


Over 1,000 people demonstrated on Tuesday night near the Habima Theater in Tel Aviv against the deal struck between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Kadima leader Shaul Mofaz.

The protest, which took place near where the 2011 summer protest began on Rothschild Boulevard, included waved flags, and chanted slogans such as “Bibi, go home.”

Several politicians spoke to the crowd, among them former Kadima head Tzipi Livni, Isaac Herzog (Labor) Nitzan Horowitz (Meretz), and Dov Khenin (Hadash).
Livni, who spoke briefly, said that she was asked to speak by “young people who want to fight for the country.”

Read more at Haaretz.com.

Abbas says he’s ready to engage with Israel


Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said on Tuesday he was ready to engage with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on a Middle East peace agreement if he proposes “anything promising or positive.”

Abbas, speaking to Reuters after Netanyahu announced a grand coalition that will strengthen the Israeli leader’s hand, said Netanyahu had to realize that Jewish settlements in the West Bank were destroying hopes of peace and must cease.

Abbas said it was still too early to comment directly on the new Israeli coalition, which saw Israel’s centrist opposition Kadima party join Netanyahu’s government.

While in opposition, Kadima had blamed Netanyahu for the failure of Palestinian peace talks. Kadima leader Shaul Mofaz said resuming negotiations that have been stalled for 18 months was an “iron condition” of his decision to join the government.

Abbas sent a letter last month to Netanyahu that was widely viewed as an ultimatum, setting out parameters for the stalled talks to resume. Netanyahu is expected to reply this week.

Abbas said he had no intention of letting his people take up arms against the Israelis, but he would be ready to renew his unilateral push for international recognition of statehood at the United Nations if there was no breakthrough.

“If there is anything promising or positive of course we will engage,” he said, speaking in his headquarters in Ramallah, the administrative capital of the Palestinian Authority (PA).

He predicted the United States might also try to bring fresh ideas to the table. U.S.-brokered talks broke down in 2010 in a dispute over continued Jewish settlement-building in the West Bank.

“If nothing happens, at that time we will go to the United Nations to get non-member status,” he said, referring to a possible vote in the U.N. General Assembly.

Palestinian efforts to get full recognition via the U.N. Security Council failed in 2011 in the face of U.S. opposition. The General Assembly cannot grant full U.N. membership, but a Palestinian initiative there cannot be vetoed by Washington and a successful vote would offer a symbolic victory.

Speaking in nearby Jerusalem earlier on Tuesday, Netanyahu said he wanted to use his enlarged coalition to “advance a responsible peace process”.

However, there was no indication he was ready to accept Palestinian calls for all settlement building to halt before negotiations could re-start. Netanyahu says halting settlement building would be a pre-condition and there should be no preconditions to talks.

Abbas reiterated the demand on Tuesday. “I will not return to the negotiations without freezing settlement activities,” he said, enunciating each word to give with added emphasis.

About 500,000 Israeli settlers and 2.5 million Palestinians live in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, areas Israel captured in the 1967 war. Palestinians want the territory for an independent state along with the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.

The settlements are considered illegal by the International Court of Justice, the highest U.N. legal body for disputes.

“Settlements are destroying hope,” said Abbas, who has been involved in Palestinian politics since the 1950s and who replaced the late Yasser Arafat as president in 2005.

It is a gloomy time for Palestinian peace makers. In a separate interview earlier on Tuesday, Abbas’s Prime Minister Salam Fayyad told Reuters Israel was succeeding in persuading the international community to ignore the Palestinian plight.

“I think we are losing the argument, if we have not already lost the argument. but that doesn’t make our position wrong,” said Fayyad. “The Israelis have managed to successfully trivialize our argument.”

Whereas Arafat was flamboyant and mercurial, striding the world stage in army fatigues, Abbas cuts a low-key figure, opting for suits and ties, and presenting a much more moderate face of Palestinian nationalism.

Calling in an aide to light his slender cigarettes, Abbas saw his main success as leader was in reining in violence.

“My legacy? I have one thing, security,” he said, adding that after two failed uprisings, known in Arabic as Intifadas, no one wanted to see further bloody confrontations with Israel.

“Ask anyone if we are going to the third Intifada. They will say no, they want peace. That has never happened before. People realized that through peaceful means we can achieve our goals.”

He rejected calls from some Palestinians that he should dissolve the PA, which exercises limited self-rule in the West Bank, and oblige the Israelis to take control of all the territory, which would be costly and tie up huge manpower.

But he indicated that he had other options up his sleeve, without going into details. Some leading figures have suggested that he should end all security cooperation with Israel in the West Bank and Abbas said a future leader might be less amenable.

“Suppose I leave and suppose someone else comes and says ‘no, this policy is rubbish’,” he said, sitting beneath a large color photograph of the golden Dome of the Rock, an Islamic shrine within the walled old city of Jerusalem.

The 77-year-old recognized that the peace process was “jammed” and acknowledged that the situation was depressing. He added that although the Israelis appeared in no hurry to reach a peace deal, they could not afford to tarry.

“Now they are wasting time. Now is a good situation for them, but no one knows what will happen in the future. Peace is essential for the Israeli future,” he said.

Writing by Crispian Balmer

In a surprise move, Likud and Kadima form Israel’s broadest government coalition


Israelis went to sleep Monday night expecting early elections in September for the 19th Knesset. They woke up to the news that elections would take place as planned in October 2013.

A behind-the-scenes deal clinched overnight between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and opposition leader Shaul Mofaz created Israel’s broadest coalition government ever.

According to the surprise agreement finalized early Tuesday morning, right before a plenum vote to disperse the Knesset ahead of early elections, Mofaz’s Kadima Party will join Netanyahu’s government coalition, boosting its numbers from 66 of the 120 Knesset members to an unprecedented 94.

Mofaz agreed not to attempt to topple the government until the official end of its term. In exchange he will be appointed vice premier. Mofaz also will participate in the meetings of the select ministerial security Cabinet.

The Kadima chief, who had vowed on his Facebook page that he would never join Netanyahu’s “bad” government and publicly called Netanyahu a “liar,” may have had a change of heart in part after seeing polls that predicted his party was headed for a major crash in early elections.

Kadima, which managed to garner a plurality of votes in the last elections with 28 Knesset seats, had fallen to fewer than half that number, according to recent polls.

Netanyahu, who in recent months has said repeatedly in public statements that he preferred not to initiate early elections, may have been tempted by the chance to bring back former Likud politicians such as Ronnie Bar-On, Tzahi Hanegbi and Meir Sheetrit, who defected with Ariel Sharon in 2005 to form Kadima.

” ‘Repatriating’ these MKs so to speak would serve two purposes,” said Amotz Asa-El, a Hartman Institute fellow. “It would strengthen the Likud. But it would also dilute the influence of more right-wing elements in the Likud aligned with Moshe Feiglin.”

The formation of a national unity government may also have positive diplomatic ramifications with regard to Iran’s nuclear program.

“A stable government strengthens Israel’s deterrence capabilities vis-a-vis Iran and improves its ability to put pressure on the U.N. Security Council and on Germany not to compromise too much with Tehran,” wrote Ron Ben Yisai, Ynet’s military affairs commentator. “The deal also improves the government’s ability to carry out surprise moves, which also strengthens deterrence.” 

Netanyahu and Mofaz said during a news conference Tuesday before the signing of the coalition agreement that there were four central issues that would be advanced by the national unity government: legislation that will obligate haredi Orthodox yeshiva students to perform military or national service; amendments to the electoral process; passage of a two-year fiscal budget; and advancing “responsible” peace negotiations with the Palestinians.

Kadima’s Knesset members will lead a committee tasked with drafting legislation aimed at replacing the Tal Law, which permits haredi yeshiva students to defer military service indefinitely in order to pursue religious studies unhindered.

The Supreme Court ruled in February that the Tal Law contradicted the principle of equality by giving the haredim preferential treatment and therefore was illegal. The court set Aug. 1 as the deadline to replace the Tal Law with alternative legislation.

Netanyahu noted during the news conference that disputes among key members of his coalition—the haredi Shas and United Torah Judaism parties and the stridently secular Yisrael Beiteinu—were a main factor in his original decision to call early elections. But with Kadima as a coalition partner, Shas and United Torah Judaism will be unable to topple the government over the Tal Law.

Incorporating Kadima also will enable the government to enact electoral system reform aimed at fostering political stability. Attempts to pass such reforms have failed due to the fervent opposition of smaller parties that represent specific populations such as the religious and haredim. These parties stand to lose from measures such as raising the election threshold from the present level of 2 percent or instituting regional elections for some of the Knesset seats.

Governments comprised of many diverse factions often are plagued with chronic divisions and instability. In many cases, a single party can threaten to bring down a narrow coalition government, giving it inordinate leveraging power.

Kadima’s support also may make it easier for the government to fend off demands by smaller parties that could hurt fiscal discipline during the passage of a two-year fiscal budget for 2013-14.

But the timing of parliamentary discussions on the budget will coincide with the expected rerun of last summer’s socioeconomic protests.

“With the world economy going into a slowdown, our government will have to make painful fiscal cuts and it will have to accomplish this at a time when the Israeli version of Occupy Wall Street is going on,” said Aviv Bushinsky, a former spokesman and chief of staff under Netanyahu. “Kadima might even be compelled to join the populists in calling for more spending.”

Settlement policy might be another point of disagreement between Kadima and Likud. Israel’s Supreme Court ruled Monday that the government had to go ahead with the demolition of 30 homes that were built on Palestinian-owned land in the Beit El settlement’s Ulpana neighborhood.

Although Netanyahu has been noncommittal, right-wing politicians in his coalition, including several Likud MKs, want to legalize retroactively neighborhoods and outposts like Ulpana.

Netanyahu could be torn between his obligation to Kadima MKs who oppose such legislative initiatives and his more right-wing coalition partners.

The peace process may lead to some points of contention, but opponents have refrained from placing the blame on Netanyahu’s government for the lack of progress in negotiations.

In surprise move, Netanyahu, Mofaz agree to form unity government, cancel early elections


Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and opposition chairman MK Shaul Mofaz (Kadima) reached a surprise agreement early Tuesday morning to form a national unity government.

Under the agreement, Kadima will join Netanyahu’s government and support its policies in exchange for a commitment that the government will support its proposal for an alternative to the Tal Law, which allows full-time yeshiva students to defer national service.

Sources in Kadima told Haaretz that Mofaz is expected to be appointed as a minister in the government. Likud sources confirmed this, adding that they expected that Mofaz would become a minister without portfolio.

Read more at Haaretz.com.