The Knesset plenum on Wednesday approved the addition of Kadima party Chairman Shaul Mofaz to the government by an overwhelming majority. Mofaz is now deputy prime minister and minister without portfolio in the Prime Minister's Office.
A majority of 71 coalition MKs voted to approve Kadima's entry into the government, with 23 members of the opposition voting against the motion. Three members of Kadima, angry over the surprise agreement between Kadima and Likud, a backroom deal that sent shock waves through the Israeli political system, were no-shows.
During the session, a commotion erupted and led to a break of almost an hour before discussions were resumed. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asked Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin to stop the discussion after Netanyahu was asked to reveal if there were unwritten conditions in the Kadima–Likud agreement that the government was unaware of.
According to the law, the government must present all the terms of an agreement to which it is a signatory 24 hours prior to the debate in the Knesset concerning the agreement.
At first, Netanyahu replied, "We spoke about several issues, but didn't come to a conclusion about every single thing. Some matters still remain open, and need to be resolved." In response to Netanyahu's statement, Knesset legal advisor, attorney Eyal Yinon, pointed out that even things promised by the prime minister verbally to Kadima must be disclosed.
During the debate, MKs Uri Ariel (National Union) and Isaac Herzog (Labor) asked Netanyahu if there were any other agreements between Kadima and Likud that were not presented to the Knesset, to which Netanyahu replied, "I want to study what our obligations are as far as disclosure goes. We did move forward, and conclude, some issues, but they were dependent on other things that were not detailed. That's it. I propose we take a break for a few minutes."
After consulting with his advisors, Netanyahu returned and said, "There were things we discussed involving possible future scenarios that ended up not materializing into agreements. Anything that becomes an agreement will be reported in accordance with the law. Ministers may be appointed in the future, but we haven't agreed on that yet."
Before his approval, Mofaz underwent a grilling at the hands of the opposition. The toughest questioning came from veteran MK Benjamin (Fouad) Ben-Eliezer (Labor), who said, "I entered the Knesset in 1984, but I have never seen anything like this before. You have caused the Israeli public to lose faith in the political system, because today it is garbage. You preferred to sell your soul to Satan, and Satan is the only one who gained from this."
Ben-Eliezer later explained that he didn't mean to compare Netanyahu with Satan. "I meant that the process was devilish," he said before requesting that his statement be stricken from the record.
Meretz Chairwoman Zahava Gal-On commented on the events of the day in the Knesset and said, "The stinking maneuver of the 1990s was tiny compared to this one. This was a mega-stinking maneuver." Gal-On was referring to a political move in 1990, in which current President Shimon Peres and then Shas leader Aryeh Deri tried to topple the government of then Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir by quitting the national unity government and installing Peres as prime minister instead. The incident was dubbed the "stinking maneuver" by Yitzhak Rabin, who at the time was Peres' Labor party rival.
Despite the somewhat euphoric atmosphere in Kadima in light of the party joining the coalition, a slight rift seems to have appeared in the party ranks as three members — Shlomo (Neguse) Molla, Nino Abesadze and Robert Tiviaev — did not show up for the vote.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman congratulated Kadima on joining the coalition but said, "The real tests will be the Tal Law and evacuation of the residents of the Ulpana neighborhood. I hope we will pass those tests."
The issues of the Tal Law, which effectively exempts ultra-Orthodox men from army service, and the Ulpana neighborhood, part of a settlement slated for evacuation, are two of the most contentious in current Israeli politics.
On Wednesday, Lieberman rejected an alternative to the Tal Law proposed by coalition leader Zeev Elkin, saying "Yisrael Beitenu is interested in a more serious proposal."
The foreign minister lashed out at television personality-turned-journalist Yair Lapid as well, saying, "He too must be living in a science fiction world now. His chances of being elected president of the U.S. are better than those of his party surviving until 2020."
In related news, Labor Chairwoman Shelly Yachimovich was sworn in on Wednesday as the new opposition leader.