Israel’s New Unity Government: Preparing for War or Reform?

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Political drama has once again made Israel the center of attention in the Middle East. Tuesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced the formation of a new unity government in Israel, by allowing the Kadima political party to join the current Likud coalition in power. Shaul Mofaz, the chairman of the Kadima party, will be appointed deputy prime minister, and will serve as a part of Israel’s security cabinet. Kadima will also chair the economics committee of the Knesset, the legislative branch of Israel’s government.

President Shimon Peres is in favor of the decision, which has dissolved plans for early elections on September 4th, which had seemed all but certain just a few days ago. The Likud-Kadima union means that members of the ruling coalition now hold 94 of a possible 120 seats in the Knesset, a 78 percent majority.

This staggering majority will give the Israeli government the potential to accomplish a great deal within the country without fear of dissension or outright withdrawal from opposing parties. Netanyahu and Mofaz have vowed to reform laws preventing haredi, Israeli’s ultra-orthodox Jewish community, from being drafted into the Israeli Defense Force. They also announced plans to change the structure of Israel’s government to be more stable.

The rest of the Middle East however, is skeptical of the unity government’s formation, with media outlets suggesting that Israel is creating a wartime coalition. al-Medina, a Saudi Arabian paper printed the headline: “Israel Prepares for War.” The paper characterized Netanyahu as obsessed with maintaining Israel’s status as the only nuclear power in the Middle East. Lebanese paper as-Safir likened Mofaz and Netanyahu to crime bosses, negotiating control over their territory. In the past, Netanyahu has been found at the center of political scandals, with police advising indictments for fraud, bribery, and obstruction of justice. Charges were never filed against him.

Tuesday’s announcement came as a surprise to even senior government officials, a result of backroom negotiation between the Likud and Kadima parties to avoid the September elections. The long-term goals of Netanyahu and Mofaz are similarly unknown, and the general Israeli public seems to be split on the initial formation of the unity government. The Likud-Kadima coalition will likely be the most powerful in Israel’s short history, but what that power will be used for remains to be seen.

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