A Middle East Process that works?

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem yesterday Photo:

At last, a middle east peace process that works. Not, alas, the troubled course of palestian-israeli relations. But nevertheless, a story about sworn enemies breaking bread together and doing a deal to their mutual benefit.

Not many weeks ago, the leader of the centrist Kadima party, Shaul Mofaz, was calling Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu all sorts of names (liar, among them) and swearing never to work with him in government.

Israel's parliament was just about to pass a law paving the way for elections in September. This morning they can lock away the ballot boxes until autumn next year. Israel woke to the surprising news that Mr Mofaz has accepted the job of deputy prime minister, and brought his block, the largest in parliament, into a grand coalition with the man he's recently vowed to destoy.

Israel's Prime Minister Netanyahu and Shaul Mofaz, head of Kadima party, hosted a news conference in Jerusalem yesterday

How to make sense of this?

Well, Mr Mofaz has bought time to build his party's support after polls suggested they would face a drubbing in the event of an early election.

Mr Netanyahu, whose worst enemies concede is a past master of realpolitic manoevre, gets a new centrist anchor to his government to counter balance a right wing so powerful in his coalition til now. Handy when they need to pass a law dealing with the controverial exemption of religious Jews from national service.

And what might it mean? Mr Mofaz has been put in charge of breathing new life - resurrecting would be a better word - into talks with the Palestinians.

And Iran? The Kadima leader is, incidentally, Iranian born and has been highy critical of the war-like rhetoric of the past six months. The failure to solve the Palestinian problem is a great threat to Israel than Iran, he says. The question is, will he now have to bite his tongue in return for a slice of power?