Israel's Knesset meets to approve unity govt

AFP , Wednesday 9 May 2012

New national unity government headed by Netanyahu and including Kadima Party is expected to be approved by Israel's Knesset on Wednesday

The formation of Israel's seventh national unity government puts Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the helm of a coalition with an overwhelming 94 votes in the 120-seat Knesset, or parliament  The agreement was unveiled on Tuesday by Netanyahu and Shaul Mofaz, who took over leadership of the centre-right Kadima party only six weeks ago.

The Knesset was expected to approve the deal during its Wednesday afternoon session, after which Mofaz was to be sworn in as vice prime minister and minister within the premier's office.

Mofaz and Netanyahu negotiated the 11th-hour deal as the Knesset was voting on a motion to end its current session to clear the way for early elections this September rather than October 2013 as scheduled.

Under the deal, Kadima and Likud will replace by the end of July a contentious law that allowed ultra-Orthodox Jews to defer their military service, with new legislation that would ensure a "fair" sharing of the burden of army service.

The deal also involves a commitment to renew the peace process, with Netanyahu saying he hoped the establishment of a new government would encourage the Palestinians back to the negotiating table after a hiatus of more than 20 months.

The deal, which caught both the political establishment and the media by surprise, is a coup not just for Netanyahu but also for Mofaz, an Iranian-born former general and one-time chief-of-staff who took over Kadima following faction primaries on March 28.

Although Kadima emerged as the largest party in parliament following the 2009 elections -- taking 28 seats -- it failed to form a government, and polls have suggested it stood to lose up to half them in any new election.

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