JERUSALEM (AP) — Six of the Kadima Party’s 28 lawmakers have agreed to join Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s hawkish coalition, just days after the troubled centrist bloc bolted the government, a party spokesman said Monday.
The defection of the party backbenchers, confirmed by Kadima official Imri Mazor but not yet officially announced, could reduce the likelihood of the government dissolving over contentious issues including a court-ordered reform of the military draft and budgetary feuds. A stable governing coalition would ease political pressures on Netanyahu as he faces crucial decisions over whether to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities and Syrian weapons depots.
The lawmakers’ defection would shore up Netanyahu’s parliamentary majority to 72 of 120 seats while weakening Kadima’s new chairman Shaul Mofaz, whose authority has already been sharply eroded by the political maneuvering that abruptly brought his party into the government and just as abruptly out.
Mofaz entered Netanyahu’s coalition in a surprise hookup in May, in part to try to end decades of draft exemptions to ultra-Orthodox Jewish men. But with a court-ordered Aug. 1 draft reform deadline looming and with Netanyahu’s government looking unlikely to push as thorough an overhaul to the system as Kadima would like, the sides failed to reach a compromise and Kadima quit the government last Tuesday.
With his party unraveling, Mofaz predicted on Monday that Netanyahu’s political ploy would not go down well with the Israeli public, telling the Yediot Ahronot news website that the “political bribery” marks “the beginning of the end of Netanyahu’s government.” Netanyahu spokesman Mark Regev had no comment on the political developments.
Kadima is the largest party in Israel’s parliament, winning one more seat than Netanyahu’s Likud Party in the last election in February 2009. But it rejected his invitation to join the hardline government he set up then, because then-leader Tzipi Livni concluded he was not seriously interested in seeking peace with the Palestinians.
Peacemaking has languished in the three years since Netanyahu took power, with Palestinians refusing to return to the negotiating table unless he freezes all construction on occupied lands they seek for a future state. Netanyahu accuses the Palestinians of being obstructionist and says the fate of settlements must be decided in negotiations.
In the meantime, the Israeli prime minister has focused his diplomatic energies on warning the world against Iran’s nuclear program, dismissing Tehran’s claims that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes. Netanyahu maintains a nuclear-armed Tehran is a threat to the Jewish state’s survival and says Israel will do whatever necessary to stop Iran from building atomic bombs, including a military strike on Iran.
Critics of military action, including former high-ranking Israeli security officials, say a strike threatens to set off a regional war without significantly setting back the Iranian program.
Israel is also contemplating an attack in neighboring Syria, where a ferocious, 17-month-old uprising has made President Bashar Assad’s hold on power increasingly tenuous. Israel is afraid that the collapse of a central government in Syria would allow militants affiliated with Lebanon’s Hezbollah group or the al-Qaida terror network to raid Syrian military arsenals for chemicals weapons or missiles that could be turned against Israel. It is weighing a strike against those arsenals to prevent this.
On Sunday, Netanyahu warned on U.S. news shows that Israel would “have to act” if the Syrian regime collapses and there’s a risk militants could put their hands on such weapons.
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