(Communicated by the Cabinet Secretariat)

At the weekly Cabinet meeting today (Sunday), 31 October 2004:

1. ISA director Avi Dichter, OC Intelligence Maj.-Gen. Aharon Zeevy Farkash, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz and Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom briefed the cabinet on recent developments in the Palestinian Authority in light of Yasser Arafat being taken ill.

Prime Minister Sharon concluded the discussion, saying: “We have previously announced that the disengagement plan is a unilateral step, aimed first and foremost at improving Israel’s security and to stabilize the political situation. This plan was made necessary following a total lack of action by the Palestinian Authority, and its complete cessation of implementing the first stage of the roadmap. As yet, the Palestinian Authority has not begun to take any steps towards carrying out its obligations according to the Roadmap, to eliminate terror, to dismantle terror organizations and carry out political reforms. As a result, Israel will continue to implement the disengagement plan according to the planned schedule. 

If in the future a new Palestinian leadership comes to power, which will seriously implement its requirements according to the roadmap, and will first and foremost fight terror and destroy its infrastructure, negotiations with that leadership will be renewed according to the roadmap. We have said this in the past, and I say it again today. If Arafat ceases to continue as leader of the Palestinian Authority, and a new, serious, responsible leadership arises, a suitable opportunity could certainly transpire in which different steps could be taken, and even the renewal of diplomatic negotiations. Such a leadership would not be one that declares and announces its intentions, but one that brings terror to an end. I do not know when this will occur, if ever. However, as long as it is not happening, and real steps are not taken in the war against terror and in dismantling its infrastructure, there will be no change in the State of Israel’s policy, which I described earlier. 

The State of Israel will not get involved in the leadership crisis in the Palestinian Authority; if their will is to renew negotiations according to the roadmap, they should elect a leadership whose path will be different to Arafat’s. Then the suitable opportunity to revive the roadmap will be created. This is their internal matter. We will not get involved in it; we will not express an opinion on it, and will not publicly discuss it. I am therefore instructing all government bodies not to publicly deal with this issue until we decide otherwise. The intelligence bodies will continue to monitor the matter, and will update those necessary. If and when there are signs of changes in the situation, which demands a new approach and reconsideration of the existing policy, this will be done, and the matter will be discussed by the cabinet. 

Internal dealings on the issue, within government bodies, unfortunately has not remained internal. At the end of each discussion, or even while it is taking place, many opinions and evaluations are published on: who is “good” for us, or what is “good” for us, or who is “bad” for us or what is “bad” for us, and recommendations of how to act in a new situation. Currently, there is no new situation in activities on the ground – and there is no place for a change in existing policy. This publicity causes serious damage in a sensitive period and is likely to bring about the opposite result, of damaging desired developments, or God forbid encouraging undesired developments.”
Prime Minister Sharon emphasized that the war on terror would continue. It would be a mistake not to act against terror, violence and incitement, and it is prohibited for Israel to make the smallest concession on the matter of its security.

2. Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz said that in light of the deterioration in Yasser Arafat’s health, the security establishment is examining the various possible scenarios, and is preparing to deal with them and their consequences – whether Arafat is absent from the Palestinian Authority for a temporary or permanent period of time, and considering the possibility that he will pass away. The Defense Minister added that the security establishment had fully answered the Palestinians’ requests related to Arafat’s medical treatment, including refraining from discussing his condition.

The security establishment is preparing itself for possible developments in the event that Arafat does pass away, including the possibility of escalation. Defense Minister Mofaz stressed that careful monitoring of the developments in the Palestinian Authority was demanded, and clarified that the security establishment is carrying out, under his instructions, preparations to fully examine the long term repercussions of the existing situation in the Palestinian Authority, in order to prepare in the best possible way for the possible changes, and methods of dealing with them. 

The Defense Minister noted that the IDF and the security establishment have over the past two weeks continued with their necessary actions against the threat of Kassam and mortar fire against the Gush Katif settlements, Sderot, and the area, and preventing terror attacks in Judea, Samaria, the Gaza Strip and Israel.

Defense Minister Mofaz commented on the warnings of terrorist activity, to the security establishment’s struggle, as a result of which, over 130 terror attacks have been thwarted and disrupted since the beginning of 2004, and also emphasized the humanitarian aspects of IDF actions, despite the large number of warnings.

The Defense Minister remarked on matters connected to the “northern establishment,” noting that Syria is continuing with its traditional policy, stressing the domination of Lebanon, and Hizbullah continue in careful management of forcing entanglements, while attempting to deter Israel with public opposing declarations, and to strengthen its legitimacy as “defender of Lebanon.”  Defense Minister Mofaz also commented on cooperation with Egypt.

3. Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom briefed ministers on diplomatic events this week, following Arafat’s illness, noting that the Palestinian leadership is currently attempting to send a message of control and ‘business as usual.’ The old guard has taken charge, while radiating an image of stability and responsibility which should serve in the future, as a proof that it is a partner at the end of Arafat’s era, while they are trying to stabilize the establishment.

Foreign Minister Shalom discussed the assembly of the PLO’s acting committee headed by Abu Mazen and to today’s assembly of the national security council headed by Abu Ala. The Foreign Minister noted that under the surfaces the expected struggle for a successor has begun. There is a gathering of all authorities around Arafat in an attempt to force him to leave a political will, a step which has so far failed due to Arafat’s refusal to sign a decree which transfers his powers while he is absent from Ramallah. The struggle for a successor is being carried out among the elite of the Palestinian Authority and the Fatah. Hamas, at this point has refrained from entering the sphere. Internationally, there are those who have hinted that Arafat’s removal could present conditions conducive to establishing the Palestinian Authority on healthier foundations, and of accelerating the peace process. The Arab world is showing restraint and are careful not to release official announcements in order not to appear as if they are already planning for the day after.

Foreign Minister Shalom said that Israel’s policy had never strayed from desire for peace and talks with the Palestinians. Israel accepted the roadmap in this spirit. However, with Arafat’s illness, it is possible that a new situation will be created which could present the opportunity which must not be missed.

The Foreign Minister added that the international community had received the Knesset’s approval of the disengagement plan with satisfaction.

4. The government decided, according to the planning and construction law (1965), to appoint the Manai Ta’asiot Niyar to prepare a plan and to submit it to the national committee for planning and construction of national infrastructures as defined in the abovementioned law. The plan will include establishing a power plant in order to create a mixture of electricity and thermal energy in accordance with the instructions as laid out by the Minister for National Infrastructure. There are economic and environmental considerations to establishing this power plant. The availability of natural gas will result in a significant reduction of costs. The power plan will be constructed in the industrial area of Hadera and will be able to supply and electricity demands. 

5. Minister Natan Sharansky, in his position as Chairman of the forum for coordinating the struggle against anti-Semitism, reported on its assembly recently in Jerusalem. The main topic was Muslim anti-Semitism, and that 45 Jewish organizations from 25 countries participated.