Jerusalem, 25 January 1998

CABINET COMMUNIQUE

(Communicated by the Cabinet Secretariat)

At the weekly Cabinet meeting, today (Sunday), 25.1.98:

1. The Cabinet meeting opened with a moment of silence in memory of the late Zevulun Hammer.

The Prime Minister eulogized the late Deputy Prime Minister and Education Minister:

"The Cabinet and the entire nation look upon the empty chair of Zevulun Hammer and see a gaping void. Zevulun Hammer was unique in that his personality and his work represented the values of Judaism and, as such, he was a unifying factor for the entire nation.

The reactions to Zevulun’s death are an expression of all that he embodied during his life. We see him as one of the leading personalities in Israeli society. A man who bequeathed the eternal values of the Jewish people to the young generation in Israel.

Zevulun’s loss has seized our hearts. We have lost a comrade, a human being in the fullest sense of the word. We will sadly miss Zevulun, because we loved him greatly."

2. The Prime Minister reported to the Cabinet on his meetings in the United States, emphasizing that he presented Israel’s positions, according to which the basis for the process is the fulfillment of obligations in accordance with the principle of reciprocity, and in accordance with the Note for the Record which accompanied the Hebron Accord of 15.1.97. A discussion regarding the implementation of this principle has begun with the United States, but has not yet been concluded. The Prime Minister said that he also clarified that Israel is acting within the framework of the limited latitude of its national interests; it was made clear that this is not a tactical framework, but rather a substantive one relating to the interests of the State of Israel.

Regarding the redeployment, there is still a gap between Israel and the United States as to its scope, although the gap between these positions has been reduced. A discussion was also held on the question of the third redeployment, and the extent of the redeployment that Israel can carry out will be distributed in keeping with this question.

The Prime Minister added that further discussion is also required concerning the agreed package linking the fulfillment of obligations to the redeployment issue. From Israel’s perspective, the clear principle is that no more territory will be transferred without a clear course of commitments being kept by the Palestinians. As for the Palestinian charter, Israel has clarified that Yasser Arafat’s letter is insufficient, and that the authorized bodies must make a decision.

The Prime Minister stressed that, should it become possible to achieve some sort of agreement with the United States, said agreement will be brought to the Cabinet for a decision. The Prime Minister added that Israel’s standing in the United States is not at all similar to the desperate picture which some in Israel have tended to paint, and that it is much better than they have tried to portray.

The Prime Minister also said that the unity demonstrated by the Cabinet on the eve of his departure for Washington left a great impression in the United States and strengthened the State of Israel.

3. The Prime Minister also addressed the issue of threats to violence made by members of the Palestinian Authority, saying that these threats are extremely serious, and that Israel will respond aggressively should the Palestinians engage in violence or threaten to do so. Israel will not agree to conduct a peace process subject to the dictates of violence. The Palestinians would be wise to understand that the only available option for the advancement of the political process is dialogue and the achievement of an understanding with the State of Israel.

4. The Cabinet was briefed on security matters by the Defense Minister and the Chief-of-Staff.

5. The Cabinet recorded the statement of the Prime Minister, according to which the Prime Minister’s Office intends to be in contact with the coordination office of the Federation of the Israeli Economic Organizations in order to prepare for the convening of an international economic conference, to be held in October 1998, to coincide with the Israel’s 50th anniversary year. The conference will offer a unique opportunity to open the Israeli economy to new business opportunities and to spotlight the achievements of Israel’s economy during the 50 years of its existence.

6. The Cabinet resolved to accept the Defense Minister’s proposal to reverse its earlier decision to cancel the Har Eitan project.

The Prime Minister announced the creation of an inter-ministerial committee to be headed by the Prime Minister and comprised of the Defense, Public Security, Finance, Infrastructure and Education Ministers to conduct a thorough discussion on the project.

7. The Finance Minister presented the Cabinet with the report of the committee charged with formulating ideas and proposals regarding the issue of conversion in Israel.

The members of the committee are seeking the Chief Rabbis’ consent for the committee’s recommendations. The second section of the committee’s recommendations calls upon the Chief Rabbis to establish conversion courts. Upon receiving the consent of the Chief Rabbis, the committee members will sign the report and the recommendations with respect to conversions in Israel.