* New coalition government to be sworn in on Monday
* Defence, housing ministries going to settlers or supporte
* May complicate any revival of peacemaking with
By Maayan Lubell
JERUSALEM, March 18 Israeli Prime Minister
Benjamin Netanyahu's new governing coalition prepared to take
office after a parliamentary vote on Monday with powerful roles
reserved for supporters of settlers in occupied territory.
While the new line-up includes more moderates than in the
outgoing government, the predominance of legislators who are
either settlers or among their staunchest supporters could
hamper any efforts to revive peace talks with Palestinians.
New Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon, a member of Netanyahu's
Likud party, opposes any curbs on settlement-building that
Palestinians say must stop before they can return to the
U.S.-sponsored negotiations, which collapsed over the issue in
Israeli construction in the occupied West Bank, territory
which the Palestinians want along with East Jerusalem and the
Gaza Strip for an independent state, must be signed off by the
Yaalon's predecessor, Ehud Barak, who headed a centre-left
party but did not run in the Jan. 22 election, was often accused
by settlers of impeding settlement projects.
"When Barak headed the ministry, he occasionally blocked the
momentum of settlement. The incoming defence minister, Moshe
Yaalon, has sworn allegiance to Judea and Samaria," Nahum
Barnea, a political commentator for the Yedioth Ahronoth daily,
wrote, using the Biblical names for the West Bank.
"In his honest, uncompromising way, he will move mountains
for them (settlers)," Barnea said.
Palestinians say that Israeli settlements, considered
illegal by most countries, pose an obstacle to peace and will
deny them a viable, contiguous state.
The issue is likely to figure prominently in talks this week
in Jerusalem between Netanyahu and Barack Obama, who will be
visiting Israel and the West Bank for the first time since first
elected U.S. president in 2008.
After weeks of coalition negotiations, Netanyahu signed
pacts with the centrist Yesh Atid and far-right Jewish Home
parties on Friday, clinching a parliamentary majority.
The Knesset will ratify the new government later on Monday,
the first in a decade to exclude ultra-Orthodox Jewish factions
that are at odds with Yesh Atid and Jewish Home over reducing
state benefits for religious families and institutions and
limiting military draft deferments for seminary students.
Yair Lapid, a former TV news anchor whose Yesh Atid party
came in a surprise second to the prime minister's right-wing
Likud-Beitenu list in the election, has called for a resumption
of peace talks with the Palestinians.
Danny Danon, Yaalon's deputy and a Likud member, said on
Israel Radio the administration was prepared to negotiate, but
"there are many in this government who believe there is no one
on the other side who truly wants to promote peace".
Netanyahu's new housing and construction minister, Uri
Ariel, is a settler himself and member of Jewish Home. He told
Israeli television on Sunday the new cabinet would continue to
expand settlements "more or less as it has done previously".
Several months ago, Israel announced plans to build more
than 11,000 new houses in the West Bank and East Jerusalem,
almost double the 6,800 it has erected since March 2009 when
Netanyahu took office, the anti-settlement Peace Now group said.
In parliament, a settler leader will also serve as head of
the finance committee, a particularly powerful body that can
greatly influence Israel's budget. Its new chief, from Jewish
Home, is unlikely to block or reduce settlement funding.
Some 500,000 settlers and about 2.5 million Palestinians
live in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, which Israel captured
along with the Gaza Strip in the 1967 Middle East war.
(Writing by Maayan Lubell; Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Mark