The scene is seared into my memory. MK Shaul Mofaz and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, concluding the press conference at which they announced that Kadima was joining the government, and walking out arm in arm, like a pair of lovers into the sunset.
A strained and bitter relationship went through an overnight metamorphosis.
Netanyahu could barely conceal his smile. It's not every day a prime minister gets such a gift, a day when the Knesset's largest faction and main opposition party joins him a minute before the Knesset was to have dissolved, thus ensuring him another 18 months in power.
"Shaul and I," Netanyahu reiterated at the press conference. "The prime minister and I," Mofaz responded. Suddenly he was careful about respecting the man who not long before he'd called a "liar."
Before dawn yesterday, while we were sleeping, while the Knesset was jabbering over a law to dissolve itself and move up the elections, a coalition agreement was signed between the leader of the government and the leader of the opposition and our legislature because a puppet theater.
The electronic media were filled with Mofaz's repeated pledges not to join the coalition. His move was described as a flip-flop, but that is far from accurate. Every politician has flip-flopped from time to time. Mofaz gave flip-flopping a bad name. Out of fear that his party would tank at the ballot box, he joined Netanyahu's government as a powerless partner.
In exchange he received a coalition agreement that includes two pledges: an appropriate alternative to the Tal Law, which allows extensive draft deferments for ultra-Orthodox men, and a change in Israel's system of government.
It is hard to picture this government, which still has two ultra-Orthodox parties, Shas and United Torah Judaism, contributing to the drafting of the ultra-Orthodox and stabilization in governance. Just as it is hard to imagine a government with Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman moving ahead on peace negotiations.
We must admit that Netanyahu has out-Sharoned Sharon at crafty political maneuvering. He has out-Olmerted Olmert at survivability.
He now heads a coalition of 94 MKs. Not that he had to work too hard for it. Mofaz was so afraid of elections on the horizon that he would have come in as a deputy to deputy minister Lea Nass in the sub-ministry for senior citizens in the Prime Minister's Office. It is not hard to imagine that he would melt back into the Likud on the eve of elections in exchange for the defense ministry or foreign ministry in the next government.
One person who is not skeptical about Mofaz is President Shimon Peres. Netanyahu phoned Peres before dawn yesterday in Canada to tell him the news. Peres was glad. He was always in favor of national unity governments. This time he has a reason: Like Peres, Mofaz is dead-set against an Israeli attack on Iran, and the president hopes Mofaz will be a counterweight on this to Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak. All well and good, as long as Mofaz does not change his mind. Consistency is not his strong suit, as we know.
The opposition was whittled down yesterday from 54 to 26 MKs. But after all, Kadima never really was an opposition. So the loss is not so great.
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