(Communicated by the Cabinet Secretariat)
At the weekly Cabinet meeting today (Sunday), August 3, 2003:
1. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon briefed ministers on his eighth trip to the US and noted that his visit had been friendly and very successful. He said that the visit proved the depth of the friendship and understanding between the Israeli government and the American administration. The Prime Minister said that his visit was designed to improve the relationship and deepen understanding on various issues, both vis-a-vis the Palestinians and regarding strategic issues such as Iran, Syria, international terrorism and Iraq.
Prime Minister Sharon met with US President George Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Colin Powell, National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice, members of the Senate and the House of Representatives, and senior American media figures.
Prime Minister Sharon emphasized that US President Bush had reiterated both the US’s commitment to the security of Israel and its citizens and that there would be no progress in the diplomatic process without the complete dismantlement of the terrorist organizations and a complete halt to terrorism and violence. President Bush said that he had passed a sharply worded message to this effect to the Palestinians during Abu Mazen’s recent visit to the US and that he had repeated this in public.
Prime Minister Sharon noted that in addition to the security issue, he had raised the steps that Israel was taking in order to help move the process forward, such as releasing prisoners (while making it clear that Israel would not release prisoners with blood on their hands), the removal of main checkpoints, transferring security responsibility for Palestinian cities and humanitarian gestures (such as issuing 8,500 permits for Palestinians to work in Israel).
Various other issues were also raised during Prime Minister Sharon’s talks in the US. He made it clear that the construction of the security fence would continue and that it constituted neither a political nor a security border, but was an additional measure designed to prevent terror activities. Regarding unauthorized outposts, the Prime Minister noted that the government had already removed 22 such outposts and intended to remove 12 additional ones forthwith. Regarding Jewish settlement, the Prime Minister said that government policy had not changed and that the communities’ fates would be decided upon in the negotiations that would be held within the framework of the talks on the permanent settlement.
Prime Minister Sharon made it clear that on strategic issues such as Iran, Syria and international terrorism, the US had a deep understanding and views similar to Israel’s on the resulting dangers.
2. Minister Natan Sharansky briefed ministers on the conference on anti-Semitism that was held in Jerusalem and said that this forum would reconvene in Jerusalem every six months.
3. Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz briefed ministers on ongoing security matters and noted that 30 days had passed since security responsibility for the Gaza Strip and Bethlehem had been transferred to the Palestinian side. He noted that he had met last week with the Palestinian Minister for Security Affairs, Muhammad Dahlan and had given him a sharp and detailed presentation of Israel’s demands and expectations in this field.
Defense Minister Mofaz said that while a certain security relaxation was prevailing on the ground, the terrorist infrastructures were being rebuilt. He asserted that Israel saw insufficient action by the Palestinians in the security sphere.
Defense Minister Mofaz said that he and Minister Dahlan had also discussed the transfer of security responsibility over additional cities. This issue was not resolved and will be discussed further. The Defense Minister made it clear that this issue was related – inter alia – to a resolution of the issue of armed fugitives in Judea and Samaria, many of whom do not recognize the halt in attacks.
Even as Israel adheres to its security demands, Israel will continue making an effort to ease restrictions on the Palestinian population by as much as possible.
Defense Minister Mofaz said that the current quiet was misleading since the terrorist infrastructures still exist. There is still no tangible Palestinian action against these infrastructures and the absence of such activity is liable to endanger the process. For its part, Israel is interested in the success of the process, is giving it a chance, and will work towards its success. However, the Defense Minister cautioned that Israel will not give in on its security needs and demands, and added that it is taking into account the possibility that the process might yet fail and that terror would resume – and is preparing accordingly. The Defense Minister has issued instructions to this effect to the IDF and the security services.
Defense Minister Mofaz also discussed the completion of the first stage of the Seam Zone project, and noted that work on the second stage is continuing and is due to be completed by the end of this year.
4. Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom briefed ministers on his recent visit to Washington and his appearance before 25 European Union foreign ministers. He emphasized that he had passed on the message that while Israel sees Europe as an important partner in advancing the peace process, the latter must take a balanced approach to Israel and its positions.
During his meetings in Washington with senior administration officials, Foreign Minister Shalom raised various issues related to the Palestinians and noted that without a strategic decision on dismantling the terrorist infrastructures, the current process cannot last very long.
Foreign Minister Shalom reiterated the government’s position that Israel will not move beyond the first stage of the roadmap until the Palestinians have fulfilled their commitments according to it.