Foreign Policy Chat - Netanyahu Cancels Israeli Elections, Forms New Government

The breaking news from Israel last night was an 11th hour move by Prime Minister Netanyahu that resulted in the formation of a new government with opposition party Kadima, and voided the early elections which had been scheduled for September. The deal, which was finalized just moments before the latest Parliament was to be seated, is a big win for two men: Bibi Netanyahu and the brand new head of Kadima, Shaul Mofaz.

The news came as a surprise to many, as Mofaz has been vocal since his ascension to the top of the party list two weeks ago about his unwillingness to join a government with Netanyahu. In a recent interview with Haaretz, he not only accused Bibi of "manipulatively exploiting the Iranian nuclear threat for political reasons," but unambiguously declared that "Kadima under my leadership will remain in the opposition. The current government represents all that is wrong with Israel, I believe. Why should we join it?" For all of Mofaz's criticism, the only concession he appears to have extracted from Likud was support for repealing the 'Tal Law,' which exempts the ultra-orthodox from the mandatory military service all other Israelis are subject to.

While early speculation suggested that the deal had something to do with solidifying support for Netanyahu's aggressive policy toward Iran, it is becoming clear that the move was really about partisan politics and preserving power in the face of an increasingly hostile political map for both men. Kadima has been slipping into drowsy irrelevance for years now, and polling suggested that a number of left-of-center parties, namely Labor, Meretz, and Yesh Atid, were poised to increase their numbers significantly in the September 4th election - paving the way for a center left coalition government that would likely leave both Kadima and Likud out in the cold. Mofaz will formally enter government as the Vice Minister - who assumes the Prime Minister's responsibilities when he's away - but in an unusual move, none of the other 27 members of Kadima will be promoted. An anomaly that seems to highlight the self-serving nature of the arrangement. While these recent machinations have short-circuited the likely formation of a more liberal government, Bibi having command of a larger majority will allow him, theoretically, to be less deferential to smaller parties to his right.  It's yet too soon to determine the full implications, but this post by a DC-based analyst suggests some of the likely effects on US-Israel relations.