Israeli leader's try to split rival party falters

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu launched a botched attempt to fragment Israel's main opposition party on Monday by wooing some of its lawmakers to rejoin his governing coalition, just days after the bloc bolted his government.

The maneuver failed after he managed to win over only four Kadima Party lawmakers, leaving him with a relatively fragile majority that could be hard-pressed to survive challenges like a contentious court-ordered reform of the military draft and the 2013 budget.

Kadima Chairman Shaul Mofaz asked parliament's permission to expel the four would-be defectors. "Anyone who wants to receive political bribery - junior positions in a bloated government - and sell out his values" should leave, he fumed.

Expelling them from the party would mean loss of state funding, but they would remain in the parliament.

Later Monday, the architect of the split - former Cabinet minister Tzachi Hanegbi - announced that he was quitting Kadima and rejoining Likud, where he made his name in politics.

Netanyahu, who had tried unsuccessfully in the past to split Kadima, needed to recruit at least seven defectors, the minimum number required under Israeli law to split from an existing party to create a new parliamentary delegation.

A broader coalition could have reduced the possibility of the government collapsing over the military draft reform and the budget.

Mofaz entered Netanyahu's coalition in a surprise move in May, in part to try to end decades of draft exemptions for ultra-Orthodox Jewish men. But with a court-ordered Aug. 1 draft reform deadline looming and with Netanyahu's government looking unlikely to push as thorough an overhaul to the system as Kadima would like, the sides failed to reach a compromise, and Kadima quit the government last Tuesday.

Mofaz was still steaming Monday over Netanyahu's unwillingness to bring most ultra-Orthodox men into the military.

"We won't allow the prime minister to legitimize the scandalous draft-dodging through political bribery and gift-giving," he told a news conference.

Kadima is the largest party in Israel's parliament, winning one more seat than Netanyahu's Likud in the last election in February 2009. But it rejected his invitation to join the hard-line government he set up then, because then-leader Tzipi Livni concluded he was not seriously interested in seeking peace with the Palestinians.