Jerusalem, August 17, 2003

Cabinet Communique
(Communicated by the Cabinet Secretariat)

At the weekly cabinet meeting today (Sunday), August 17, 2003:

1. Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz and OC Intelligence Maj.-Gen. Aharon Ze’evi (Farkash) briefed ministers on security issues; Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom briefed ministers on diplomatic issues.

Defense Minister Mofaz discussed the fragility of the process with the Palestinians, which was underscored last week by the attacks in Rosh Haayin and Ariel. He said that behind the escalation are terrorist bodies that have accepted the "hudna" [cease-fire] but which have formulated dangerous rules-of-the-game. Every perceived Israeli violation of the cease-fire is subject to one-time terrorism. Tanzim elements in Judea and Samaria, which do not consider themselves bound by the hudna, are constantly trying to perpetrate attacks against Israel, most of which do not succeed.

Arafat is giving signals that are being interpreted by those around him and the Tanzim as hidden encouragement of terror and support for Iranian-backed terror by Hizballah and others. The defense minister stressed that Israel’s operative behavior is prudent and determined and added that there is no intention of changing it. In the events in both Nablus and Hebron, in which Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorists were killed, Israel was acting against "ticking bombs" in areas that have not been handed over to Palestinian security control. The defense minister said that Israel’s reaction to the Rosh Ha’ayin and Ariel attacks concentrated on the Nablus-Jenin area and stepped up its counter-terrorist and preventive activity there.

The defense minister asserted that lately the PA has been passive given the security situation and its security activity has been partial, localized and far from satisfactory.

Regarding the transfer of Palestinian cities to the PA, the defense minister emphasized that he views the issue as important and not a concession on Israel’s part. It entails assigning the PA with responsibility of dealing with terror infrastructures. To this end, he met twice with PA Minister Muhammad Dahlan and acquainted him with the severity of the security situation and stressed that if the PA fails to assume responsibility and deal with terror, it would then bear responsibility for the security escalation, possibly entailing the collapse of the process.

Defense Minister Mofaz said that after a pointed discussion, it was agreed in principle that Israel would transfer security responsibility for Jericho and Kalkilya to the PA, and in a second stage, Ramallah and Tulkarm as well. The handover of these cities will be conditional on a resolution of the problem of the fugitives in each city; the defense minister will monitor their implementation. The defense minister gave concrete security demands to the Palestinian side; the security establishment will monitor their implementation.

Defense Minister Mofaz said that the aforementioned agreement is important at a critical moment in the process and added that the ball is now in the Palestinians court. He added that it must be emphasized that progress in this process will be cautious and gradual, and conditioned on a series of approvals on Israels part; nothing is automatic and Israel has no intention of making concessions on its security needs and demands. Whenever and wherever the PA fails to deal with terror, Israel will do so. At the same time, Israel intends to continue easing restrictions on the population in conformity with security needs. The population is already feeling the change and for the first time has become a restraining factor against terrorism.

Defense Minister Mofaz and OC Intelligence Maj.-Gen. Aharon Ze’evi (Farkash) commented on the growing tension on the northern front, which stems from Hizbullah’s and Syria’s being ill at ease with the Israeli-Palestinian process.

Defense Minister Mofaz said that Israel is holding not only Hizballah accountable for what happens in the north, but the Lebanese and Syrian governments as well, and added that deterrent messages to this effect have been passed on to Beirut and Damascus.

Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom discussed events in the north and said that they were a focal point for wide-ranging diplomatic activity. The foreign minister reported that he has instructed the Israeli ambassador to the UN to submit a complaint regarding the Hizbullah attacks, and is initiating discussions with several fellow foreign ministers, including US Secretary of State Colin Powell. In addition, he has instructed Israeli embassies abroad to emphasize in the seriousness with which Israel views the terror attacks in Ariel and Rosh Ha’ayin in particular and the continuation of terror in general. The foreign minister also emphasized the importance of dismantling the terrorist infrastructure, as is demanded by the road map.

Foreign Minister Shalom described Nabil Shaath’s comments as extremely grave and harsh, and that Israel has responded to them in the strongest possible terms. The foreign minister further commented that European countries are putting pressure on Iran regarding the nuclear issue.

Prime Minister Sharon commented on the various briefings and said that all contacts and agreements reached between Defense Minister Mofaz and Muhammad Dahlan were done so with his full knowledge and approval. The prime minister added that Israel’s central aim has been and continues to be achieving security and peace for the State of Israel and noted that the implementation of the road map has not yet reached beyond the initial stages. Following remarks by Attorney-General Elyakim Rubinstein and in recognition of the fact that there is no legal system in the Palestinian Authority, the prime minister instructed that a senior Israeli legal representative (the Justice Ministry director-general or another senior official) attend all meetings with Palestinian security officials.

2. The government decided to renew the activities of the ministerial team on confirming the Holy Synod of the Greek-Orthodox Patriarchate’s August 13, 2003 choice of Metropolitan Eirinaios as Jerusalem’s Greek Orthodox Patriarch.