Israeli leaders agree to new coalition

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has reached an agreement with the Kadima opposition party for a unity government, cancelling an early election.

In a statement yesterday, President Shimon Peres’ office said Mr Netanyahu had informed the president that he had reached a deal with the leading opposition party, Kadima, to form a broad-based coalition government – overriding his announcement on Monday that the existing coalition would call an early election.

The dramatic turn could influence a possible Israeli strike on Iran.

Kadima’s leader Shaul Mofaz, a former military chief and Defence Minister, has been a vocal critic of Israel striking Iran’s nuclear sites on its own.

Reports of the deal came as Israel’s parliament held debates long into the night over whether to adjourn before going to the polls in the autumn.

Earlier the government had proposed an election on September 4 after originally being set for next year.

The reports said Kadima agreed to join Mr Netanyahu’s government on the condition it supported a proposal about military deferment for Ultra-Orthodox Jews. The issue was a main reason why Mr Netanyahu decided to bring forward the election date.

The deal stipulates that Mr Mofaz will serve as Deputy Prime Minister and that two other key parties, Yisrael Beitenu and Shas, had agreed to the move.

The current government is the most stable Israel has had in years, but disagreements on domestic issues such as drafting the ultra-Orthodox into the military and tearing down illegal structures in West Bank settlements have led Mr Netanyahu to bring forward the elections.

Recent polls suggested his Likud Party would win at least a quarter of parliament’s 120 seats – letting him form a majority coalition that could be more moderate than the hawkish line-up he now heads.