JERUSALEM (Reuters) - In a surprise maneuver, Israel's parliament postponed plans to vote for an early national election on Tuesday after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu forged a deal for a broader coalition with the centrist Kadima party, officials said.
"We have been rescued from holding an early election. There will be a broad-based government," Meir Sheetrit, a senior lawmaker and former finance minister with Kadima said on Israel Radio.
The agreement, expected to be signed later on Tuesday, is destined to give Netanyahu the support of as many as 94 lawmakers in Israel's 120-member parliament and help his government survive without calling an early poll.
News of the deal negotiated secretly, called off a marathon debate being held in Israel's parliament that had been expected to culminate in a vote to dissolve itself after Netanyahu called last week for an early election to be held on September 4.
After hours of deliberation, the Knesset announced early on Tuesday it would not hold a final vote for dissolution.
The Knesset also said in a statement that as the plenum was preparing to vote, Netanyahu's Likud party and the opposition Kadima party had "urgently met ... to discuss significant political developments, apparently talks for a national unity government."
Under the deal, Shaul Mofaz, a former military chief now head of Kadima after a party election ousted Tzipi Livni from that job in March, will be named vice premier in Netanyahu's government, officials said.
Kadima, with 28 seats, would add significant weight to Netanyahu's government and expectations are that if the alliance survives, Netanyahu could remain in power through the end of his term in late 2013.
Netanyahu's coalition with religious and ultra-right parties had been shaken by disputes over legislation exempting devoutly Orthodox Jews from military service, and next year's budget.
(Reporting by Allyn Fisher-Ilan and Ari Rabinovitch; Editing by Mohammad Zargham and Lisa Shumaker)