Israeli cabinet approves snap polls, Par to decide

Jerusalem: Buoyed by opinion polls and an opposition in disarray, Israel`s hawkish Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu`s cabinet has approved his request for snap polls on September 4. The bill to bring forward the polls, which were scheduled for next year, is now due for vote in the Knesset (Israeli parliament).

Netanyahu said that he intends on forming a government that will bring about "stability" after the polls under his leadership, enabling him to successfully lead the state of Israel. "For dozens of years, there hasn`t been a more stable government in Israel," Netanyahu said about the current right-wing coalition adding, "I would have been very glad if we could have completed the term, but having a short election season is the right thing to do".

"It is no secret that with the beginning of the fourth year of this term, there has been some instability within the coalition ? between parties and within parties," he noted, close on the heels of opinion polls citing his party emerging stronger after the polls, increasing its lead over others. The Israeli premier stressed that the weakening of the coalition harms Israel`s security, economy, and society, and for this reason the right thing to do is "to launch speedy elections".

Delivering the keynote speech yesterday evening at his Likud party`s conference, the hawkish leader had made his intentions to call for early polls clear. Meanwhile, Chairperson of the resurgent Labour party, Shelly Yachimovich, a scribe turned politician, has said that she would consider joining a Likud-led coalition only if she would be able to shape the government`s agenda.

Yachimovich has said that if she becomes Prime Minister she will immediately launch peace talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and nurture Israel`s relations with Egypt and Turkey. Opposition Kadima party, in disarray after its former Chairperson Tzipi Livni quit the parliament following her defeat to incumbent Shaul Mofaz in the party leadership race, accused Yachimovich of coordinating her strategy with Netanyahu.

"Yachimovich and Netanyahu are waging an orchestrated assault on Kadima," aides to party leader Shaul Mofaz said, adding that Kadima would no longer put up with it. "Yachimovich lacks the most basic experience in every field. At the end of the day, this is how it goes: vote Yachimovich, get Bibi (nickname for Netanyahu)," they said. Kadima parliamentarians, wary of opinion polls giving them very low number of seats, opposed the proposal to move up the elections, arguing the need to advance their alternative for the controversial "Tal Law".

The Tal Law, which allows haredi (ultra-Orthodox) Jewish men to indefinitely defer mandatory army service, was recently invalidated by the High Court of Justice and is set to become the central issue in the upcoming election. Israel`s ultra-nationalist Foreign Minister, Avigdor Lieberman`s Yisrael Beitenu party is recruiting parliamentarians to support its replacement for the legislation, which would require all 18-year-old men to enlist in the army or perform civilian service.

The proposal allows for 1,000 yeshiva students (ultra-orthodox learning religious studies)and the same number of athletes and artists to receive an exemption from the draft to encourage those with exceptional talents. Those who do not serve the state may not receive any grants or payments from the government.

Netanyahu`s Likud party currently has 27 seats in the Knesset, one less than oppsition Kadima, but is expected to emerge as the single largest party with about 30 seats in the recent opinion polls. Opinion polls put other major parties far behind the Likud`s tally encouraging Netanyahu to opt for the snap polls.