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Knesset moves quickly to approve coalition deal

By Kevin Flower, CNN
updated 4:32 PM EDT, Wed May 9, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The Israeli Knesset approves a coalition agreement by 71-23
  • The agreement is between the Likud party and the opposition Kadima
  • Labor party's Eliezer accuses Mofaz of selling his soul to the devil

Jerusalem (CNN) -- The Israeli parliament approved Wednesday by a vote of 71-23 a coalition agreement between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party and the opposition Kadima party of Shaul Mofaz.

After the vote, Mofaz took the oath of office. He will serve as minister without portfolio and deputy prime minister.

The Knesset also approved Labor leader Shelli Yachimovitch as head of the opposition for the duration of the Knesset's term.

The move by Netanyahu upends the political calculations of smaller left-of-center parties and provides him with a comfortable governing coalition less sensitive to the demands of his current right-wing coalition partners. For Mofaz and his fellow Kadima members, the move buys another year in office without having to face voters amid sagging popularity ratings.

Knesset Member Binyamin Ben Eliezer of Labor accused Mofaz of selling his soul to the devil, which he said was the only entity to profit from the deal.

The chairwoman of the left-wing Meretz party, Zahava Gal On, blamed Mofaz and Netanyahu for putting together a deal so dirty that it has caused the public to lose faith in all politicians. She said one rotten apple -- the Kadima party -- has spoiled everyone.

Knesset Member Robert Tibiyev of Kadima said before the vote that he would not participate. He said that Kadima could have supported a new arrangement for the Tal law and changing the electoral system from outside the coalition.

The Tal Law is a statute that provides an exemption for many ultra-orthodox men from serving in the Israeli military. Service in the armed forces is compulsory for most Jewish Israelis, but in the past year there have been increased public demands that the ultra-orthodox community bear an equal share of the burden.

Earlier this year, the Israeli high court ruled that Tal Law was unconstitutional, which forced the government to draw up new legislation governing who can receive exemptions from military service.

During Wedneday's Knesset meeting, debate was halted briefly and the prime minister was asked whether any other understandings in the coalition agreement with Kadima had not been made public. After the plenum was reconvened, the prime minister said that during the negotiations the possibility of appointing additional ministers from Kadima to the cabinet had been raised, but nothing was finalized.

The Knesset's approval of the government came a day after Netanyahu and his right-wing Likud party agreed with the rival centrist political faction Kadima to form the unity government. The move puts off elections until late next year and creates one of the largest coalition governments in Israeli history.

The deal was reached early Tuesday between Netanyahu and Kadima's leader Mofaz a day after Netanyahu had called for early elections to be held September 4.

Appearing together at a news conference Tuesday afternoon in the Knesset, the two leaders attempted to explain the sudden change in direction.

"When I thought the stability is rocking I was willing to go to elections," Netanyahu said. "But when I found out that it is possible to create a broad, very broad government... I understood that we can bring back the state of stability without changing the time of elections."

Mofaz characterized the agreement as an "historic opportunity" for the government to put the public good before narrow political concerns.

Both men said that the coalition, consisting of 94 of 120 Knesset members, would be better capable of addressing a variety of domestic and security concerns.

In addition to giving Mofaz the role of deputy prime minister, the deal offers a number of Kadima Party members senior Knesset committee positions.

Kadima will be given a leading role in redrafting Tal law. Political disagreement over the sensitive issue was one of the major factors that had led Netanyahu to push for early elections in September.

Both men also identified upcoming budget negotiations, government reform and the need to restart talks with Palestinians as the most important goals of the new government.

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