Binyamin Netanyahu
Binyamin Netanyahu Israel news photo: Flash 90

The Israeli Cabinet gave its approval on Sunday to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's proposal to hold an early general election on January 22. The Knesset will vote on the Cabinet proposal and will likely approve it.

If the government had been able to complete its term, a feat that no government has accomplished for years, the date would have been in next October.

Meanwhile, Kadima party defector Avi Dichter announced on Sunday that he is joining the Likud.

Fed up with Kadima’s top two leaders Shaul Mofaz and Tzipi Livni, Dichter left the party three months ago and immediately was named by Netanyahu as Home Front Minister.

“I answered the Prime Minister’s request to join the Likud movement because I am deeply convinced that I can faithfully represent its constituents,” Dichter said Sunday. “The Likud is the only party that can guard Israel’s security, social and economic interests.”

Dichter recently turned down an offer from Knesset Member Shelly Yechimovich to join Labor with the understanding of being in charge of its defense portfolio.

Her offer to Dichter, who is considered one of the more hawkish Knesset Members, indicates the worry of the Opposition parties, who lack a leader who can unify all parties outside the coalition.

Mofaz replaced Tzipi Livni last year in a bitter leadership campaign, in which Dichter also was running.

Kadima has 28 Knesset seats, but the polls showed the party’s popularity was sinking under her leadership, which was considered somewhere between weak and non-existent.

Under Mofaz, Kadima has fared even worse in the polls, and a survey published by Maariv last week suggested the party would win only six seats if elections were held today.

Yechimovich is well-respected by her own party members but does not appeal to Kadima MKs nor to the left-wing Meretz party.

Mofaz reportedly has agreed to step aside in favor of Ehud Olmert, the only Prime Minster ever to be convicted for a criminal offense. He still faces another trial on allegations of bribery in the Holyland apartment complex scandal in Jerusalem, where Olmert was mayor when the land for the project was re-zoned.

A suggestion by the Jerusalem Post last week that Olmert could defeat Netanyahu with a coalition of Kadima and the new Future party, headed by Yair Lapid, was viewed as ridiculous by Likud officials.

Lapid is the remaining hope for opposition parties, but he is held in high suspicion by his former colleagues in journalism as well as by experience politicians, who view his biggest credential as being the son of the later secular faction leader Tomy Lapid.

The polls showed that an Olmert-Lapid coalition, along with Tzipi Livni, could win them 31 seats.  The Likud holds 27 Knesset seats now and is projected to win about the same number in the next election.

However, the projected “victory” for Olmert would leave him without enough coalition partners, except for Labor, that could give him majority Knesset support.