(Communicated by the Cabinet Secretariat)

At the weekly Cabinet meeting today (Sunday), 12 December 2004:

1. Prime Minister Sharon congratulated Professor Avraham Hershko and Professor Aharon Ciechanover for being awarded the 2004 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. The Prime Minister said that the entire country watched the award ceremony with excitement and added that this was an immense achievement for the State of Israel.  This success demonstrates the importance of investing in research and education.  Prime Minister Sharon expressed hope that more would be done in this area in the future.

2. IDF Chief-of-Staff Lt.-Gen. Moshe Ya’alon briefed ministers on the November 2004 recruitment to the IDF and on ongoing security matters, while relating to the Palestinian arena and to existing trends within Palestinian society.  The Chief-of-Staff also commented on security issues of the past week – the security establishment’s activities against Kassam rockets and mortar fire, and the disruption and foiling of terror attacks and weapons smuggling.

The Chief-of-Staff remarked on the severe criticism against the IDF recently, and said that it is incorrect and unjustified.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon expressed, on behalf of the Cabinet, complete trust and appreciation for the IDF and its commanders.  He emphasized that the IDF is the most moral army in the world, since it copes with situations that no other army has come across.  The IDF can be used as an example in both the operational and moral senses to other armies.  Prime Minister Sharon said that he does not know of any other army that would be able to act with such high moral standards, as well as operational capabilities, in dealing with such complicated and dangerous situations, as the IDF does.

3. Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reported on the agreement reached between the Finance Ministry and the Histadrut on matters concerning public workers salaries.

Prime Minister Sharon congratulated Finance Minister Netanyahu and Histadrut Chairman MK Amir Peretz for the agreement they reached and said that it is always preferable to reach solutions through agreement.

4. The Cabinet discussed the issue of the release of Egyptian prisoners and the shortening of the sentences of Palestinian prisoners and detainees, as a gesture to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

Prime Minister Sharon said that the release of Azzam Azzam was carried out after the personal intervention of Egyptian President Mubarak as a personal gesture and in an attempt to create a new, more positive, atmosphere in the region that would assist in advancing various regional issues.

Prime Minister Sharon said that in his telephone conversation with Egyptian President Mubarak following Azzam Azzam’s release, he thanked him for his contribution towards resolving this painful tragedy.

Prime Minister Sharon said that for his part, Egyptian President Mubarak has recently taken a more positive line.  In addition to the release of Azzam Azzam, he has also acted to improve bilateral relations and is interested in helping to advance the Disengagement Plan by advancing various security issues, mainly the prevention of smuggling and the training of Palestinian security forces.  Therefore, the Prime Minister has instructed the security and legal establishments to check on the possibility of shortening the imprisonment or detention of Palestinian prisoners and detainees, in accordance with the criteria that have previously guided the Government on this issue.

As a gesture to Egyptian President Mubarak, the Cabinet decided to approve Prime Minister Sharon’s proposal that Israel respond to the release of Azzam Azzam by releasing six Egyptian detainees and shortening the sentences of Palestinian prisoners and detainees.

The Cabinet noted that Attorney General Meni Mazuz exercised his authority and delayed criminal proceedings against the Egyptian detainees, who were returned to Egypt when Azzam Azzam was released.  In response to Egyptian President Mubarak’s appeal and as a gesture of good will, friendship and gratitude for the decision to release Azzam Azzam, and in continuation of the aforementioned release of the six Egyptian detainees, the Cabinet decided to shorten the sentences of Palestinian prisoners and/or detainees (respectively) in accordance with the criteria that were determined for this purpose.

A ministerial committee, chaired by Prime Minister Sharon, will be established to deal with – at the behest of the Cabinet – shortening the sentences of security prisoners and detainees in accordance with the aforementioned criteria and the guidelines of Attorney General Meni Mazuz. The other members of the committee will be the ministers of Foreign Affairs, Defense, Justice and Public Security; the Attorney-General will be in regular attendance.  A committee chaired by Justice Ministry Director-General Aharon Abramovitz will coordinate the work on shortening the sentences of Palestinian prisoners and detainees as mentioned above; representatives of all relevant bodies will participate in its proceedings. The committee will submit its recommendations and conclusions to the ministerial committee, which will be authorized to approve them at the behest of the Cabinet.

5. The Cabinet decided to approve the appointment of attorney Sarit Dana – who currently serves as Interior Ministry Legal Adviser – as Deputy Attorney General, effective 1 January 2005.

6. The Cabinet, in accordance with its authority under the 1959 Civil Service Law, and in accordance with the recommendation of the Civil Service Committee, decided to exempt from public tender Netiv emissaries abroad, on condition that a selection process takes place in accordance with the Civil Service Commission directive.

7. The Cabinet, in accordance with its authority under the 1959 Civil Service Law and the 1996 Electricity Sector Law, and in accordance with the recommendation of the Civil Service Committee, decided to exempt from public tender the position of Public Utility Authority for Electricity Chairman, on condition that a search committee hold proceedings in accordance with criteria determined by the Cabinet.

8. The Cabinet approved Prime Minister Sharon’s proposal to establish an inter-ministerial authority to deal with the enforcement of land laws, including: unauthorized construction, invasion of public lands and unauthorized excavating and digging.  The authority’s goal is to minimize phenomena of construction offenses that severely harm the environment, reserves of public lands, the state treasury and the rule of law.  Prime Minister Sharon directed the relevant bodies to act as quickly as possible so as to enable the authority to begin operating by early 2005.

The authority will be operated by the Public Security Ministry and will be chaired by a senior Israel Police officer whose duty will be to coordinate between the various professional bodies.  In this context, a police unit will be established to assist in the enforcement of land laws.  The unit’s police officers will be accompanied by inspectors from the various bodies affiliated with the authority during enforcement actions, the implementation of administrative and judicial orders, and patrols.

At the same time, a unit will be established in the State Prosecutor’s Office to deal with the enforcement of land laws, in coordination with guidelines from the Attorney General.  This legal department will issue indictments, oversee legal proceedings, deal with criminal enforcement, authorize outside prosecutors in the various local councils and planning authorities, and will consider the need for legislative changes.

In addition to the ongoing land enforcement activities of the Israel Lands Administration and the Interior Ministry, special task forces will be established within the plan.

The enforcement authority will coordinate a geographic data bank that will assist in mapping and monitoring land law violations.  The authority chairman will submit detailed quarterly reports on the scope of violations on the ground, including actions carried out by the authority.

A team chaired by the Public Security Ministry Director-General – and with the participation of representatives from the Prime Minister’s office, the Interior Ministry, the Finance Ministry, the Justice Ministry, the Construction and Housing Ministry and the Israel Lands Administration – will determine the authority’s working procedures, including: a detailed working plan, priorities, timetables and schedules.  The team will monitor the implementation of the plan.

The Cabinet will – one year after the authority begins work – examine the authority’s efficiency and decide on the future of its operations.