Following are excerpts from Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s remarks at the start of the weekly Cabinet meeting today (Monday), 19 November 2007:

"Early next week, we will leave for the Annapolis meeting. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Defense Minister Ehud Barak will accompany me; they will participate in the meeting and address it. This meeting, as I have said more than once, is not a conference for negotiations. It is an important meeting, initiated by US President George Bush and it seems that a sufficient number of representatives from countries around the world will also attend. I do not recommend that anyone overstate its importance and create exaggerated expectations but one certainly cannot understate the importance of the fact that the US President and, with him, the leaders of the most important countries in the world, are convening a meeting of such broad international stature in order to support the direct negotiations between us and the Palestinians.

Naturally, such negotiations will be accompanied by disagreements and arguments. If everything was so simple, I imagine that we would have reached an agreement some time ago. The fact is that there are disagreements; we do not hide them and we must settle them. On some issues, those which are procedural, we hope to be able to reach agreement ahead of the Annapolis meeting, but the negotiations will begin after Annapolis and they will be very intensive, very serious and will deal with all the substantive issues that are an inseparable part of the process, which must lead to a solution of national states for two peoples.

We will make every effort to see to it that the representation of the Israeli position, of our concerns, of our expectations and of our hopes will receive the proper strength and proportion at this meeting in Annapolis."

(Communicated by the Cabinet Secretariat)

At the weekly Cabinet meeting today (Sunday), 19 November 2007:

1. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert deplored yesterday’s shocking incidents in which two elderly residents of Haifa were brutally assaulted and robbed.

2. Prime Minister Olmert briefed ministers ahead of the Annapolis meeting. The Cabinet then discussed the issue.

Prime Minister Olmert said that he regretted that there were those who were rushing to describe it in various ways, to try and minimize it and even to call against participating in it. “The goal of the Annapolis meeting was made clear in advance and with precision by US President George Bush in the speech in which he called for convening the meeting. Since the speech, the importance of the meeting has grown, as has the understanding of the overwhelming majority of the international community that Annapolis will see the launch of the negotiations on the permanent agreement between us and the Palestinians – negotiations that have not been held in seven years. Annapolis is the beginning of a process. The meeting is designed to give international backing and support to the negotiations and will constitute the platform for a further series of processes. The negotiations between us and the Palestinians will begin after Annapolis. Given the complexity and sensitivity of the issues, these will be long, difficult, complicated and intensive negotiations. As on every issue, it is to be expected that there will be ups and downs, crises and disagreements and even painful compromises. This cannot be avoided. Annapolis and the process that starts there are the order of the day. The process that is designed to assure the future and the existence of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state will start there.”

3. The Cabinet discussed the release of Palestinian prisoners and decided as
follows:

A. In the framework of the desire to advance and strengthen the dialogue between Israel and pragmatic elements in the Palestinian Authority (PA) led by President Abu Mazen and in the legitimate government led by Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, to recommend that the authorized bodies release approximately 500 Palestinian prisoners and detainees from Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip, in accordance with the criteria that have been set in Government decisions of 6 July 2003, 27 July 2003 and 13 February 2005 and to recommend the release of those Palestinian prisoners who constitute humanitarian cases due to special medical circumstances.

B. The Ministerial Committee on the Release of Palestinian Prisoners will – at the behest of the Government – deal with the release of the Palestinian prisoners, the date of their release to be determined according to prevailing circumstances and while taking into account the fulfilling of the Palestinians’ commitments. The foregoing will be in accordance with the approved criteria and the guidelines of the Attorney General. The Committee will approve the list of prisoners.

C. The Ministerial Committee will be able to make exceptions to the criteria for the percentage of sentence that has been served and of sentence that has yet to be served.

D. A coordinating committee, chaired by Justice Ministry Director-General Moshe Shilo, will deal with actions related to carrying out the release, including formulating the list of prisoners who meet the release criteria. Representatives of all relevant bodies will participate in the committee. The coordinating committee will deliver its recommendations and conclusions to the Ministerial Committee, which will be authorized to approve them on behalf of the Government.

The prisoner issue is one of utmost importance in Palestinian society. By releasing the Palestinian prisoners, the Government of Israel is interested in making it clear that it is aware of the importance of this issue and in underscoring the fact that it will be possible to release Palestinian prisoners through dialogue and not through violence or the abduction of soldiers.

In order to advance the diplomatic process with the Palestinians and in the hope of strengthening ties with PA President Abu Mazen and Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, it has been proposed to release approximately 500 prisoners who do not belong either to Hamas or Islamic Jihad and who do not have blood on their hands. Similarly, it has been decided to consider the release of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, who suffer from medical problems, on a humanitarian basis.

The Government of Israel wishes for the day on which abducted soldiers Gilad Shalit, Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser who are being held by terrorist murderers. The Government is investing maximum effort in bringing about their swift release.

4. The Cabinet decided to establish a Ministerial Committee on the IDF Reserves and Benefits for Active Reservists. The goal of the decision is to strengthen and establish the principle of compensation and appreciation in the Government’s draft legislation through providing a ‘basket of benefits’, by Government ministries and the various authorities, to the reduced population that bears most of the reserve duty burden. Thus, the whole of society will express its appreciation both for the reserve system in general and those who bear most of the burden in particular.

5. Pursuant to the 1959 Civil Service Law (Appointments) and in accordance with Finance Minister Ronnie Bar-On’s proposal, the Cabinet appointed Shuki Oren to – as of 9 December 2007 – succeed Dr. Yaron Zelikha as Finance Ministry Accountant-General, who will conclude his term on 7 December 2007.

6. The Cabinet decided to ratify the Third Additional Protocol to the Geneva Conventions as it was signed in Geneva on 8 December 2005. Israel will attach the following declaration at the time of ratification: “The Government of Israel declares that while it honors the status of the new neutral distinctive emblem that has been added to the Third Additional Protocol of the 12 August 1949 Geneva Conventions, regarding the adoption of an additional distinctive emblem, it understands that the ratification or implementation of the protocol will not affect, or constitute a renunciation of, any right that Israel has acquired in the wake of its reservations to the 12 August 1949 Geneva Conventions.”

7. Pursuant to Article 4a(a) of the 1958 Higher Education Council Law, the Cabinet decided to recommend that President Shimon Peres appoint Student Association Chairman Tomer Oved as a member of the Higher Education Council in place of outgoing Student Association Chairman Itay Barda.

8. The Cabinet decided to add to the budget of Institute for Forensic Medicine.