Leading article: No more excuses, Mr Netanyahu


It says much about Benjamin Netanyahu's world class political skills that no one outside his circle had advance knowledge of the bold stroke by which he brought the centrist opposition Kadima party into the Israeli government in the early hours of Tuesday.

The genesis of the coup, which overturned plans for a September election, lay in raw domestic politics. Kadima's new chairman, Shaul Mofaz, found himself leading a party which polls indicated would shrink from 28 seats to just 13 if a vote went ahead. And Mr Netanyahu, facing fresh difficulties from right-wing Jewish settlers in his Likud party, also had good reason not to go to the country. But that does not alter the scale of the outcome – a coalition with 94 out of 120 Knesset seats.

The question outside Israel, of course, is what Mr Netanyahu will do now? Mr Mofaz has shown himself sceptical about a unilateral strike on Iran. In theory – and possibly in practice – Mr Mofaz's presence could act as a restraining factor in deliberations on such a strike. But it is equally likely that the politically flexible Mr Mofaz might bow to his more hawkish colleagues, if it came to that.

The second question is what impact the new coalition will have on the frozen peace process with the Palestinians? Mr Mofaz favours an interim state on 60 per cent of the West Bank, to be followed by negotiations between the two sides on final borders. Yet there is little in the coalition accord's vague reference to a "responsible peace process" to indicate Mr Netanyahu has decided to launch a genuine initiative.

What is clear, however, is that with Kadima now acting as a powerful counter weight to the far right, he could do so if he wants. That means Mr Netanyahu can no longer deploy the familiar argument that he cannot make further progress towards peace without endangering his government.

For that reason alone it is incumbent on both the US – despite the risks in the run-up to an election – and also the EU – which faces no such constraints – to nudge Mr Netanyahu towards serious negotiations with the Palestinian leadership before it is too late.