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How Netanyahu's 'unity' government may affect Palestinians, Iran

Prime Minister Netanyahu jolted Israeli politics by forming a 'unity' government with the centrist Kadima party, arguing it will promote stability at a time of contentious challenges.

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Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (l.) and Kadima party leader Shaul Mofaz shake hands before holding a joint press conference announcing the new coalition government in Jerusalem, Tuesday, May 8. Netanyahu said Tuesday his new coalition government will promote 'a responsible peace process' with the Palestinians.

Sebastian Scheiner/AP

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A stunning overhaul in the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu could produce progress on the peace process with the Palestinians but also enhance Israeli threats to attack Iran’s nuclear program.

Late last night, the parliament was pushing forward legislation to dissolve itself and move up general elections by a year to this September. But in what Haaretz newspaper labeled an "atomic bomb," Mr. Netanyahu and opposition leader Shaul Mofaz of the centrist Kadima party instead paved the way for a national unity coalition, something that Netanyahu says will stabilize the government for the next year and a half so it can deal with reforms at home and security threats abroad.

By bolstering his majority from just over half to more than three-quarters of the parliament, Netanyahu now has more latitude in which to pursue a two-state solution and is less beholden to his core constituency of hardliners like Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Jewish settlers. Kadima, for its part, benefits by gaining much greater clout at a time when polls indicated it could face a drubbing in any upcoming elections.

“A major shift has happened in Israel’s government this night. Israel’s government is no longer a right-wing government,” says Amit Segal, a political commentator for Channel 2 news. “In the long term, it will enable Mr. Netanyahu to try to reach an agreement with the Palestinians without fearing the reaction of Mr. Lieberman or the right wingers of his party.”

Netanyahu’s big-tent government also gives him more political cover if he chooses to be more aggressive against Iran because of the presence of Mr. Mofaz, a former army chief of staff and former defense minister who has been critical of Israel's stance on Iran, in the decisionmaking process, say analysts.

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