Israel’s sudden announcement at 2 AM in the morning that the September 4 elections are cancelled and that opposition leader Shaul Mofaz is joining the government was met with both surprise and scorn within Israel. Over 1,000 protesters took to the streets of Tel Aviv to condemn the deal, and new polling data shows that Israelis see it as a cynical attempt by Netanyahu and Mofaz to increase their own power.
Israeli police were quick to crack down on the protest, terming it “illegal” and arresting a number of journalists who were covering the rally near the Likud Party headquarters in central Tel Aviv. Smaller protests were also reported elsewhere in the country, and even top members of Mofaz’s Kadima Party were condemning his “unity first” calls.
So far official comments by the new coalition’s leadership have centered around efforts to expand conscription to all Israeli citizens, and also some pledges by Mofaz of unspecified “electoral reforms,” presumably aimed at keeping his centrist party relevant (early predictions had them losing major numbers of seats in the election that will not happen).
But of course the real question is what impact this will have on Netanyahu’s planned attack on Iran. The September election was seen setting the stage for an October war, but analysts say this might make the war easier still, by making the critics of the planned war, including top former security officials, politically irrelevant.
In a way the partnership brings Kadima full circle. Starting as a slightly more moderate split-off from Likud (led by Ariel Sharon), the coalition move by Mofaz, a former Likud member, effectively folds it back into the Likud family, and will make differentiation even harder when the next election is held in 2013.
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