Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's deal whereby the centrist opposition Kadima Party has joined his Likud-led coalition government may be one of the most adept pieces of realpolitik by any political leader for a long time, but it raises as many problems for the rest of the world as it solves for Mr. Netanyahu. The deal was made on May 8, even as the Knesset, Israel's unicameral parliament, was voting on its own dissolution for a general election a year ahead of schedule. The ruling coalition was under severe pressure, with Likud's own right wing and cabinet hardliners demanding legislation to regularise West Bank constructions that the High Court had ruled were on land looted from Palestinians; in addition, religious parties in government wanted orthodox Jews to be allowed military service deferment. Therefore, bringing the largest single party — Kadima has 28 seats — into government has given the coalition 94 out of 120 Knesset seats; Mr. Netanyahu will stay in office until October 2013 and will now get parliamentary approval for anything he does. The deal, moreover, wrong-foots the centre-left Labor Party, which had expected to win seats at Kadima's expense in the now-cancelled election.
Mr. Netanyahu emerges as the outright winner. Poll ratings had portended a Kadima meltdown to about 10 or 11 seats, but joining the government makes its leader, Shaul Mofaz, look opportunistic and will reduce any moderating influence he might otherwise have had. Furthermore, Mr. Mofaz has accepted the deputy prime ministership despite his previous attacks on Mr. Netanyahu, and has reneged on a pledge never to join a Netanyahu government. Secondly, the Prime Minister can use Kadima's coalition presence to justify concessions, however minuscule and insincere, towards the Palestinians. Equally, with no significant opposition in Parliament and a main coalition partner which needs him for its own political survival, Mr. Netanyahu can intensify his talk of war with Iran and can ignore strong cautionary advice from Israel's military and security services. In addition, his inflammatory rhetoric serves to blackmail the United States and its western allies into strengthening sanctions against Iran. That is exactly what Mr. Netanyahu wants, as do the oil corporations and Saudi Arabia, who fear the impact on crude prices of increased world oil supply. It also diverts attention from the matter of justice for the Palestinians — which Israel wants excluded from the political space. Mr. Netanyahu has already achieved that objective in part.