Israeli PM reaches coalition deal

CNC report from Jerusalem
Added On March 15, 2013

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has reached a deal on forming a new ruling coalition.

The right-wing leader's new administration is expected to take office early next week, just days before a visit by U.S. President Barack Obama.

Officials said initial agreements were reached overnight Wednesday between Netanyahu's Likud party and its two main coalition partners, the centrist Yesh Atid and far-right Jewish Home parties.

There will be only 22 ministers, making it the smallest government in decades.

According a cabinet line-up released by Israeli media, Netanyahu will be prime minister and hold on to his foreign ministry portfolio.

But he was forced to give up his alliance with long-time partners, the ultra-Orthodox parties.

His Likud party will also run the interior ministry and defense ministry.

Newcomer Yair Lapid's Yesh Atid party has reportedly secured five ministerial portfolios, including those of finance and education.

Jewish Home, meanwhile, will have three. Its leader, high-tech millionaire Naftali Bennett will serve as minister of industry, trade and labor.

Centrist politician Tzipi Livni will serve as the justice minister. He will be in charge of negotiation procedures with the Palestinians.

The deal came almost two months after the general election. It was expected to be signed on Thursday and then handed to the parliament and President Shimon Peres for approval.

The new coalition is expected to be sworn in on Monday, two days before a visit by U.S. President Barak Obama.

The trip will be Obama's first to Israel since he started his first term in office over four years ago.

Now that Obama is nearly two months into his second term, some analysts say, the highly anticipated visit will be significant on multiple fronts, while some, remain skeptical.

SOUNDBITE (ENGLISH)  EYTAN GILBOA, US-Israel relations expert:
"Obama would attempt to come out of the region with some kind of a new opening in the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations."

SOUNDBITE (ENGLISH)  EYTAN GILBOA, US-Israel relations expert:
"The personal relations between Netanyahu and Obama during Obama's first term, have not been good. But the two leaders have to work in the next four years to face serious challenges such as Iran's nuclear program, the so-called Arab Spring, the disintegration of Syria."

SOUNDBITE (ENGLISH) YIGAL PALMOR, Israeli Foreign Ministry Spokesman:
"We know that President Obama is very keen on pushing the peace process, and on this, we see eye to eye, so we hope that the combined efforts of the new Obama administration with the new Israeli government, will bring us this time to the point where we can show results for our efforts."

SOUNDBITE (ENGLISH) MUKHAIMAR ABU SAADA, Palestinian political analyst:
"It seems to me that this visit will definitely be a turning point in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, but I don't think the President will be able to initiate a breakthrough in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The Americans have made it clear to the Palestinians and to the region that the U.S. President is coming to listen to leaders of both sides and he is not coming with a new initiative to deal with final status issues."

SOUNDBITE (ARABIC) YOSSIF REZQA, Advisor to Hamas PM
"People are doubtful that this historic visit could be crucial in pushing peace negotiations forward. According to the public statements, Obama has no new plans, he just wants peace talks to resume without offering a new vision. This is why the Palestinians are doubtful and pessimistic."

SOUNDBITE (ARABIC) RAMALLAH RESIDENT:
"Honestly I don't expect much out of this visit and believe that the Israeli side will benefit more."

SOUNDBITE (ARABIC) RAMALLAH RESIDENT:
"We hope that Israel will be pressured to work for peace and withdraw from the Palestinian territories, but I believe America will not practice any pressure on Israel."