(Communicated by the Cabinet Secretariat)

At the weekly Cabinet meeting today (Sunday), 19 December 2004:

1. Prime Minister Sharon eulogized former Environment Minister Professor Yehudit Naot who passed away last week.  Prime
Minister Sharon said: “Our friend, and former minister, Yehudit Naot will be laid to rest in a few hours.  Every member of this government had the privilege to personally know her special character, which encompassed a pleasant manner, high moral standards and an exceptional inner calm. As Environment Minister, she left her stamp on those issues that were close to her heart.  I remember our joint tour of Hiriya, how her eyes lit up when she spoke about the plan to build Ayalon Park. Yehudit was able to see the plan to establish the park approved.

Over the last year, we accompanied Yehudit on her difficult fight against cancer.  Despite the many difficulties, she continued to fulfill her role as minister and I remember her here, in Cabinet meetings, writing notes in order to express her opinion. I was amazed at her courage and her determination, which brought her to do what appeared to be impossible – to continue functioning as a minister and not to give up.  Yehudit Naot will be missed by all of us around this table and I will personally miss her.  I send my condolences to Uri, Tamar, Assaf and Noa.

2. The Cabinet, in accordance with the recommendation of Communications Minister Ehud Olmert and the 1982 Bezek and Broadcasts Law, decided to appoint Hadassah Ralbag as a consumer representative on the Council for Cable and satellite Broadcasting.

3. The Cabinet authorized the National Infrastructures Ministry
Director-General and a senior representative to be appointed by Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to examine the plans for cooperation in the sphere of natural gas with countries and/or suppliers, including in regard to importing liquefied natural gas to Israel, while taking into account the  technical, economic and strategic aspects of said cooperation.

4. The Cabinet decided to extend the validity of the 1959 Capital
Investments Encouragement Law until 31 March 2005 and authorized the Ministerial Committee on Legislation to further extend the validity of the law – with the approval of the Knesset Finance Committee to 30 June 2005.

5. The Cabinet decided to allocate NIS 140 million over the next five years to joint projects with the Jewish Agency on Jewish-Zionist education in Israel and among Jewish young people in the Diaspora (hereinafter “the / project”), in the context of which Jewish young people from the diaspora will come to Israel for periods of between one semester and one academic year in order to participate in various Zionist educational or volunteer projects.

The project will be jointly financed by the Government, the Jewish Agency and its participants.  The Jewish Agency will match the Government’s allocation of funds. The goal of the project is to attract 56,000 participants.

The project will be carried out according to a detailed agreement between the government and the Jewish Agency, in accordance with the 1992 Public Tenders Law.

The goal of the project is to strengthen Diaspora Jews’ ties to Israel and to create and cultivate leadership for the Jewish people via the educational process of strengthening and deepening Jewish identity and to encourage Jewish young people to immigrate to Israel.  For those participants who elect not to immigrate to Israel, the goal of the project is to increase their involvement with the community and to draw Diaspora communities closer to Judaism and Israel.

Prime Minister Sharon said: “The future of both the Jewish People and the State of Israel is linked – first and foremost – to the degree of cooperation and efforts made to strengthen it, between ourselves and world Jewish communities.  I attribute great importance to strengthening links and maintaining ties between ourselves and world Jewish communities and to affording young Diaspora Jews with a Jewish-Zionist education.  It seems to me that in the long view, there is no Jewish issue more important than this. I have defined immigration to Israel as a main goal of government policy but immigration can only exist to the degrees that there is Jewish-Zionist education and that the link between world Jewish communities and the State of Israel is strengthened.  Thus, I welcome this project.”

6. The Cabinet approved the proposal of Tourism and Public Security Minister Gideon Ezra and decided to transfer responsibility for maintaining the Western Wall Plaza from the Tourism Ministry National Holy Places Center to the Prime Minister’s Office Fund for the Heritage of the Western Wall.