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Ahead of Obama’s Inaugural Visit, Israel Installs New Government

March 18, 2013 at 12:00 AM EDT
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GWEN IFILL: Later this week, President Obama travels to Israel, the West Bank and Jordan.

Iran, Syria, and reviving the Middle East peace process will be high on the agenda. The president faces challenges bridging differences between Israelis and Palestinians and fractures within both camps. We will examine those divisions tonight and tomorrow night.

Jeffrey Brown begins with Israel’s new government.

JEFFREY BROWN: In Jerusalem today, workers literally rolled out the red carpet, part of the final preparations ahead of President Obama’s trip to the region.

At the same time, Israel’s new coalition government was itself installed, led again by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but including some new key players. Its formation took weeks of negotiations after Netanyahu won reelection in January’s parliamentary elections, a victory accompanied by the surprisingly strong second-place finish of Yair Lapid, leader of the centrist Yesh Atid party.

Today, Netanyahu had this to say about his new government’s stance on relations with the Palestinians.

PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, Israel: With a Palestinian partner who is willing to conduct negotiations in good faith, Israel will be prepared for historic compromise that will end the conflict with the Palestinians forever.

JEFFREY BROWN: On one important issue, new Jewish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, the country’s new housing minister said yesterday that building would continue in — quote — “accordance with what the government’s policy has been thus far.”

The Palestinian leadership has refused to enter peace talks while Israel continues the settlement policy. Another issue at the top of the new government’s agenda is Iran and its nuclear program.

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: We face very great threats. Iran continues in its race to obtain an atomic bomb. It continues to enrich uranium in order to produce a bomb.

JEFFREY BROWN: Iranian officials have said their nuclear work is only for peaceful purposes. In an interview that aired on Israeli television last week, President Obama said it would take Iran a year to develop a nuclear weapon, a longer timetable than that put forward publicly by Israeli leaders.

But the president reiterated his commitment to keep that from happening.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: When I say that all options are on the table, all options are on the table. And the United States obviously has significant capabilities. But our goal here is to make sure that Iran doesn’t possess a nuclear weapon that could threaten Israel or could trigger an arms race in the region.

JEFFREY BROWN: The new cabinet doesn’t include members of Israel’s ultra-Orthodox parties. They have been excluded for the first time in a decade.