Jerusalem, November 23, 2003

Cabinet Communique
(Communicated by the Cabinet Secretariat)

At the weekly Cabinet meeting today (Sunday), November 23, 2003:

1. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon responded to media reports to the effect that the government is considering taking unilateral steps in Judea, Samaria and Gaza and said that Israel is committed to the Roadmap, added that he does not rule out unilateral steps. However, the Prime Minister emphasized that his position is not yet fully formed, and that any plan will be submitted to the cabinet at the appropriate time.

Prime Minister Sharon added that this matter is not connected to the Roadmap and that it does not negate Israel’s demand that the Palestinians fight terror, as detailed in the Roadmap.

2. ISA Director Avi Dichter briefed ministers on matters connected to terrorist organizations and to their continued efforts to perpetrate terror attacks. ISA Director Dichter also discussed the new Palestinian government, including efforts made by the Palestinian Authority to reach a ceasefire agreement and matters concerning the wave of Islamic terror around the world, which calls for greater security around Israeli targets abroad.

3. Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom reported on his visit to Istanbul in the wake of the terror attacks against the synagogues there, and on his meeting with Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul.

Foreign Minister Shalom also discussed the annual meeting between Israel and the European Union in Brussels in which he urged the 25 European Union Foreign Ministers to fulfill their moral, political and historical obligation to fight anti-Semitism. Following this request, Ireland’s Foreign Minister proposed that a resolution be brought before the UN General Assembly which would condemn the phenomenon of anti-Semitism, and this suggestion was well received by the European states.

The Foreign Minister also raised other matters regarding Israel’s relationship with the European Union, including increasing economic cooperation and the possibility of including Israel in the definition of a Wider Europe. Foreign Minister Shalom raised other issues such as the boycott of Israeli products from Judea, Samaria, the Golan Heights and eastern Jerusalem, and also put forward Israel’s position on the separation fence, Yasser Arafat’s status and the need for continued talks between Israel and the European Union on all matters of controversy between the two sides.

Foreign Minister Shalom also met with US Secretary of State Colin Powell in Brussels and said that Secretary of State Powell presented the US’s position that the ceasefire, as initiated by Abu Ala’s government, cannot be an alternative for the Palestinian Authority dealing with security issues.

Minister Shalom continued with a report on his visit to Austria, the first visit by an Israeli Foreign Minister since 1995, and noted that he found Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schussel and Foreign Minister Dr. Benita Ferrero-Waldner amenable to advancing cooperation between the two states.

Foreign Minister Shalom reacted positively to Egypt’s efforts to renew the ceasefire, but emphasized that a ceasefire will not bring about a solution in itself, and said that Abu Ala’s government must take steps to dismantle the terrorist infrastructure.

Foreign Minister Shalom reported on his meeting with International Atomic Energy Agency Director Dr. Mohamed El Baradei on the matter of Iran’s nuclear program in which he emphasized the danger posed to the world and to Israel if Iran were to implement this program.

Minister Shalom concluded with comments on the kidnapped Israelis in Colombia and reports that they will be released sometime in December. Foreign Minister Shalom said that he intends to talk to his Colombian counterpart on this matter.

4. Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu briefed ministers on his meetings with US administration officials and American economic leaders during his recent visit to the US.

Minister Netanyahu said that he briefed his interlocutors on the government’s economic plan, including pension fund reforms and structural changes to the economy and noted that he met with very positive responses.

Minister Netanyahu said that he also briefed his American interlocutors on the plan being put together to form a "land bridge" from the Gulf of Eilat to the ports of Ashdod and Haifa, and added that the plan met with admiration. He said that the plan would be submitted to the Cabinet soon and asserted that it would contribute to regional development and stability.

5. Prime Minister Sharon briefed ministers on his visit to Italy last week and his meetings with senior Italian government officials and local Jewish community leaders.

Prime Minister Sharon said that it was made clear during his visit that Italy – among European countries – was noted for its friendly relations with Israel. He noted that Italy was working to balance other European countries’ positions toward Israel and added that Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was very active in the struggle against anti-Semitism.

Prime Minister Sharon said that he raised a wide range of issues in his talks with senior Italian government officials, including the danger posed by international terrorism, the need to halt the transfer of funds to Hamas and Iran’s nuclear program, as well as various bilateral issues, such as the strengthening of economic, security and diplomatic relations between the two countries.

Prime Minister Sharon noted that approximately 100 Israeli industrialists would visit Italy soon and pointed out that Italian Deputy Prime Minister Gianfranco Fini would begin an official visit to Israel today (Sunday), November 23, 2003.

Prime Minister Sharon also noted that he had spoken to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan yesterday (Saturday), November 22, 2003.

Prime Minister Sharon informed ministers that he had spoken with Egyptian Prime Minister Hosni Mubarak and had wished him well on the occasion of the conclusion of Ramadan and the Eid al-Fitr holiday.

6. As a gesture to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan on the occasion of the Eid al-Fitr holiday, the Cabinet decided to release 10 Jordanian prisoners and transfer them to Jordan.

The Jordanian prisoners were released according to criteria decided upon by the Cabinet in its July 27, 2003 decision that no prisoners with, "blood on their hands," would be released. A committee headed by Justice Ministry Director-General Aharon Abramovitz in cooperation with all relevant bodies formulated the list of prisoners and detainees to be released which will be published later today. The prisoners will be released on Tuesday, November 25, 2003.