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Israeli parliament approves Likud-Kadima coalition government

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The Israeli parliament has approved a coalition deal between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party and the Kadima party of Shaul Mofaz.

The new government will have a majority of 94 in the 120-seat Knesset - one of the biggest in Israeli history.

The Kadima leader was immediately sworn in as a minister without portfolio within the prime minister’s office on Wednesday, after the Knesset approved his appointment by 71 votes to 23.

The agreement between Netanyahu and Mofaz, who took over leadership of the center-right Kadima only six weeks ago, was announced in the early hours of Tuesday.

Wednesday’s vote followed a lengthy Knesset session in which lawmakers were given the opportunity to deliver short speeches on the deal, and many opposition members lambasted Mofaz for “opportunism” and “cheap politics.”

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 in October 2013 as scheduled.

Under the deal, Kadima and Netanyahu’s right-wing 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.

Mofaz will also be a member of the Security Cabinet and Mr Netanyahu’s inner circle - previously known as the Forum of Eight. Kadima will also chair four powerful parliamentary committees, including defence and foreign affairs.

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 prime minister also agreed to support Kadima’s call for changes to the so-called Tal Law, the BBC reported, which allows ultra-Orthodox Jewish seminary students to defer military conscription. Secularists say the law is unfair and in February the Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional.

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 armed forces 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 stands to lose up to half of them in any new election.