Jerusalem, October 19, 2003

Cabinet Communique
(Communicated by the Cabinet Secretariat)

At the weekly Cabinet meeting today (Sunday), October 19, 2003:

1. Minister Limor Livnat raised the issue of negotiations over the MIAs and POWs that are now being discussed in the media and said that the facts should be presented to ministers either in the framework of the Cabinet or the Ministerial Committee for National Security.

Prime Minister Sharon responded that there is no final agreement as yet and added that there are still a large number of questions, issues and claims, which have yet to be finalized. The Prime Minister said that there is no intention of preventing any action that would assist in locating Ron Arad, and added that such action is indeed being taken.

The Prime Minister remarked that details of the negotiations must not be made public since this would likely cause the process to fail and emphasized that every effort must be made to return any Israeli citizen imprisoned in an Arab country, or by held by a terror organization, to Israel.

Prime Minister Sharon assured ministers that there would be ample time and opportunity for ministers to familiarize themselves with the issues and to express their opinions.

2. Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz briefed ministers on ongoing security matters and described the current Palestinian political situation as one of crisis, lacking in security, and in which Abu Ala’s emergency government is hanging by a thread due to the obstacles Arafat has put in its way. Arafat continues to prove that he is a serious impediment to the development of a regime that could enter into talks with Israel.

Defense Minister Mofaz added that in Israel’s strategic view, US President George Bush’s vision and the roadmap remain the primary context and framework for progress with the Palestinians. Unfortunately, Israel has been unable to find a Palestinian partner with which to make peace and is therefore being forced to continue to take all the necessary steps to fight terror and halt terror attacks. Israel has increased its operations against terror since the deadly attack at the Maxim restaurant in Haifa, including carrying out preemptive operations to target terrorists, arrests, comprehensive and continuous operations against tunnels in Rafiah, a complete closure, roadblocks and an increased IDF presence on the seam zone, reinforcing crossing points in the security fence so as to prevent suicide bombers from entering, and calling up reservists.

Defense Minister Mofaz discussed the terror attack against the Americans in the Beit Hanun area and noted that this was a planned attack, which lent credence to Israel’s position that security chaos has resulted from the Palestinian refusal to deal with terror. The terror attack is another test for the Palestinian leadership; however, it has not resulted in actual steps against the terrorist infrastructure. The Defense Minister noted that Israel is treating this attack as an attack against Israel and added that it will be investigated accordingly.

Defense Minister Mofaz said that there has been a tense quiet on the northern border since Israel’s aerial attack on Syria, an attack that presented the Syrian establishment with a military dilemma. Israel continues to hold Syria responsible for any attacks originating in its territory or in areas under its control, including Lebanese and Palestinian terror.

Foreign Minister Shalom briefed ministers on diplomatic matters, including the evacuation of Israelis from La Paz, which was carried out professionally and responsibly. Foreign Minister Shalom thanked the Bolivian and Peruvian governments for their help in the evacuation.

The Foreign Minister noted that the US House of Representatives passed the "Syrian Accountability Act" which enacts economic sanctions against Syria due to Syria’s continued support of terror and Damascus’s control over Lebanon.

Foreign Minister Shalom emphasized that this law presents a clear and strong message to Syria and to President Assad, that the US is serious about dealing with Damascus’s dangerous and irresponsible support of terror.

3. The Cabinet approved the appointment of Eliyahu Cohen as Israeli Ambassador to Japan.