Jerusalem: In a dramatic reversal, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday called off general elections after joining hands with the main opposition Kadima party to form a broad-based coalition government, which he said would advance peace talks with the Palestinians.

The deal to include the centrist Kadima party was announced a day after Netanyahu called for snap polls in September this year.

The surprise pact with the main opposition party would give Netanyahu an overwhelming majority in parliament for possible strike against Iranian nuclear facilities.

Netanyahu told reporters at a joint conference with Kadima party's newly elected chairman Shaul Mofaz that the new unity government would bring "stability" to Israel.

But Labour party leader, Shelly Yacimovich, a former scribe who would now be appointed the opposition leader, slammed the move as "an alliance of cowards," and the "most ridiculous zig-zag in Israel's political history, which no one will ever forget".

Defending his move, the Israeli premier said, "From the very beginning I wanted to continue to (the original date of the) elections, and when I saw that that stability was being undone I went for (early) elections."

"I jumped at the opportunity" to create the "widest government in Israel's history," Netanyahu said.

He also addressed those criticising the deal, saying "Until a few days ago, I was told that I wanted elections in order to escape the budget, the Tal Law, and the toughest questions facing Israel."

"And here were are together, Shaul and I and the rest of the coalition, saying we're pulling together for four main issues: to pass a fair and equal replacement of the Tal Law; to pass a responsible budget; to change the system of governance; and, lastly, to try and promote a responsible peace process," said Netanyahu.

The Tal Law, which extends ultra-orthodox Jews exemption from army service has become a bone of contention between various political parties and segments of the populace, was likely to become the core issue in the snap polls.

Speaking at the joint press conference, Mofaz said there were "times in the life of a nation in which it is required to take significant decisions. There are moments in a leader's life in which he has to take decisions that have a personal significance."

"The time has come to change the agenda. This is a move of unity which is important to Israel's future. A coalition of 94 MKs could better deal with the challenges Israel's future holds," Mofaz said, adding: "We're here to join hands, and face the challenges, and they are not easy."

Under the agreement reached earlier today, Kadima will join Netanyahu's government and commit to supporting its policies through the end of its term in late 2013.

The Kadima chief is expected to be appointed deputy prime minister. Mofaz will also serve as a member of the security cabinet, and Kadima members will serve as chairmen of the Knesset foreign affairs and defence committees, the economics committee, and any others that are agreed upon by both sides.

The Kadima head said that Israel had to choose its path, adding that the foremost issues the country faced have "a solid majority in this Knesset. There's a clear majority in Israel for creating an equation of (military or civil) service for all."

"We will bring a new system of government from the 19th Knesset onwards, and that achievement itself is enough. The change could affect the entire Israeli way of life," he added.

Political analysts said the move will give Mofaz an opportunity to revive his party's downslide in opinion polls and give Netanyahu an opportunity to move ahead with peace talks once the threat of right-wing coalition partners destabilising his government is removed.

It was largely believed the Israeli premier was unable to make any gestures towards the Palestinians to break the deadlock on peace talks because of pressures from an overwhelming right-wing coalition bloc in the government.


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