Jerusalem, July 13, 2003

Cabinet Communique
(Communicated by the Cabinet Secretariat)

At the weekly Cabinet meeting today (Sunday), July 13, 2003:

1. The Cabinet decided to authorize the Ministerial Committee on Legislation to discuss a draft Entry into Israel Law and to submit it to the Knesset.

The 1952 law specifies that tourist entry visas will be given for three months, with the possibility of extension as long as the extension does not exceed two years, i.e. a total of 27 months. Interior Ministry policy regarding foreign workers enables foreign nationals to work in Israel on a B1 (temporary working tourist) visa for a period of up to five years. However, due to the aforementioned legal restrictions, foreign workers have been obliged to leave Israel during their period of employment, for at least one day, before they can continue working in Israel. This is a confusing, formalistic demand that is not dictated by reality and which entails unnecessary expenses.

As a general rule, there are no grounds for extending tourist visas beyond five years lest this be understood as indicating de facto residency. However, in special cases, the Interior Minister should be allowed discretionary powers to extend visas for additional periods that do not exceed 30 months, i.e. so that B1 work permits do not extend beyond 7.5 years. Such extensions are required mainly by those working in nursing for the elderly.

The proposed amendment to the law enables the extension of tourist visas for up to five years, and for three extra months depending on special circumstances.

2. Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz briefed ministers on security matters, including the disappearance of Eliyahu Gurel. The Defense Minister said that the security establishment is checking all possibilities, including his abduction by terrorists. The security establishment is doing its utmost to bring the affair to a successful conclusion.

Defense Minister Mofaz called on Israelis not to enter Palestinian Authority areas.

Defense Minister Mofaz noted that in the two weeks since security responsibility for the Gaza Strip and Bethlehem had been transferred to the PA, while there has been a significant decrease in the number of attacks and warnings, these still exist. Most of the terrorist organizations are honoring the ceasefire but are also using it to rebuild their infrastructures. In regard to counter-terrorist activities, the Palestinian security services are focusing their efforts on localized, reactive operations. There has been a significant decrease in the level of official incitement. PA Chairman Yasser Arafat is a very significant obstacle in the path of PA Prime Minister Abu Mazen.

Defense Minister Mofaz briefed ministers on his recent meetings with Muhammad Dahlan.

3. Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom briefed ministers on his visit to Italy and the Vatican. He noted that Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Angelo Sodano gave him a personal message from Pope John Paul II in which the Pontiff said, "We are finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel," and stated that Israel and the Palestinians had a historic responsibility to use this period in order to advance the peace process.

Secretary of State Cardinal Sodano thanked the Israeli government for dismantling the mosque in Nazareth and for showing great sensitivity towards Catholic believers.

Foreign Minister Shalom also briefed ministers on the issue of visas to the US and the government’s efforts to reverse UEFA’s ban on holding European soccer matches in Israel due to the security situation.