(Communicated by the Cabinet Secretariat)

At the weekly Cabinet meeting today (Sunday), 26 December 2004:

1. Prime Minister’s Office Director-General Ilan Cohen and Disengagement Authority Director Yonatan Basi briefed ministers on the operations of the Exceptional Cases Committee and the Disengagement Authority, which, last weekend, approved in principle the first advances for factories in the Erez Industrial Zone, and on the negotiations which the Authority is conducting with several Gaza Strip and northern Samaria communities on the possibility of moving entire communities to within existing communities.

2. Regarding preparations for the upcoming Palestinian Authority (PA) elections, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said that the procedures that Israel and the Palestinians have agreed on are identical to those which were agreed to and applied during the 1996 elections.

Prime Minister Sharon said that The PA elections are very important in creating a leadership with which we hope it will be possible to make progress in the Roadmap process. These elections are arousing great international interest; to this end, several hundred foreign observers will arrive from the US and Europe.  More than a few of them are already here. The Prime Minister emphasized that is very important that it should be clear to the entire world that Israel has made possible proper elections.

The Cabinet decided as follows:

The Government of Israel attaches great importance to the holding of proper elections for the post of chairman of the executive authority of the Palestinian Council (hereinafter “the elections”) en route to the creation of a democratic society, on 9 January 2005, and will act as detailed below. The international community attaches maximum importance to the elections and has requested that the State of Israel do its utmost to support, assist and assure the holding of fair and effective PA elections.

The IDF and the security forces will take the necessary steps to enable the holding of free elections.  The procedures will be coordinated by the authorized commanders and will be enacted in keeping with necessary security considerations, and include, inter alia:

* The IDF presence in Palestinian towns will be reduced to the minimum necessary; near to the date of the elections, IDF forces will leave all Palestinian cities.

* Procedures will be determined for removing checkpoints in defined locales.

* The opening hours for the Allenby Bridge crossing will be expanded.

* On election day, seam zone crossings will be open ‘round the clock.

* Freedom of movement and transit will be allowed for those involved in the
elections: Candidates, activists and campaigners.

* Proper procedures will be determined for transporting election equipment and stationing it in the various polling places.

* Joint Israeli-Palestinian coordination offices will be set up and will deal with – inter alia – responding to immediate problems that may arise.

* Rules will be determined for providing security for the elections by Palestinian security forces.

* The presence and free movement of international and local observers will be made possible.

In accordance with article 3A of the 1994 Implementing the Interim Agreement On Regarding the West Bank and the Gaza Strip Law, to allow within the State of Israel actions which are necessary to hold elections as were agreed to between the State of Israel and the PLO in Annex II (Article VI thereof) of the 28 September 1995 Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and as per the changes stemming from the increase in the Palestinian population.

On 9 January 2005, elections for the post of chairman of the executive authority of the Palestinian Council are due to be held for the second time. These elections are very important vis-a-vis the creation of a new PA administration that is due to implement the necessary reforms in the PA and honor its commitments. Israel has a great interest in their success, and assured holding, of proper PA elections, in the hope that a Palestinian leadership will be chosen that will implement the PA’s commitments according to the roadmap, as was approved by the Government of Israel, i.e. the elimination of terrorism and the dismantling of terrorist infrastructures, the implementation of comprehensive reforms, and additional commitments which the PA undertook upon itself. The international community expects the State of Israel to do its utmost to assist the in the success of the elections, and, in any case, the state of Israel is interested that it not be seen as having worked to impede or wreck an effective electoral process.

In the framework of contacts between representatives of Prime Minister Sharon, the security establishment, the Foreign Ministry and other government ministries, and Palestinian representatives, various issues were discussed regarding the holding of these elections in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip, including the participation in the elections by Palestinian residents of eastern Jerusalem.  It was agreed that the elections would be held in the same format as described in the 28 September 1995 Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, the elections having been held on 20 January 1996.

In order for proper elections to be held in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip, the State of Israel will make possible changes in access and transportation procedures, will allow the movement of candidates, activists and observers, and will reduce the presence and activity in Palestinian towns ahead of Election Day. To these ends, the Cabinet has authorized IDF commanders to determine guidelines for action vis-a-vis the PA, in keeping with security needs.

Article 3A of the 1994 Implementing the Interim Agreement On Regarding the West Bank and the Gaza Strip Law determines that: “The Palestinian Authority shall not open or operate a representative mission, and shall not hold a meeting, in the area of the State of Israel unless written permission for this has been given by the State of Israel or by someone authorized by it to do so.” As detailed above, the format for the elections regarding voting by Palestinian residents of eastern Jerusalem, will be as was determined for the 1996 elections, with such changes as stem from the increase in the population.

On 20 January 1996, elections were held for the first time for the Palestinian Council and for the post of chairman of the executive authority of the Palestinian council.  These elections were held in keeping with the detailed instructions determined in the aforementioned 28 September 1995 agreement (Article II and Annex II, the latter being entitled “Protocol Concerning Elections”).

Article VI of Annex II (“Election Arrangements Concerning Jerusalem”) sets forth detailed instructions regarding voting by Palestinian residents of eastern Jerusalem in the elections. Inter alia, there are restrictions on election campaigning in Jerusalem, which requires approval by the authorized bodies in Israel; details regarding voting arrangements at specific post office branches and details regarding the presence of international observers.

Prior to the elections, a canvass of voters was held in order to prepare the Palestinian voter registry.  This canvass was carried out close to the elections on a commercial basis by an eastern Jerusalem college, via its students and teachers who were Palestinian residents of eastern Jerusalem. In the framework of the agreement regarding the canvass, the canvassers were prohibited from including symbols and headings in their documentation and forms that are different from those used in the documentation and forms used in Judea, Samaria and Gaza.  In accordance with the agreement, the offices of the Palestinian Elections Committee were located outside the city of Jerusalem.

A joint committee, whose Israeli members included – inter alia – representatives of the Foreign Ministry and the Israel Police, considered and approved all actions that the Palestinian side asked to hold in Jerusalem.  The committee approved the holding of discussion groups in private, roofed locales, as well as assemblies and rallies in roofed public places, that were approved by the police.  Police approval was necessary for all events in public places.  Special procedures for putting up campaign posters were determined.  The holding of marches and assemblies in the streets and in open spaces in Jerusalem was prohibited, as was affixing large posters to motor vehicles.

In accordance with the agreement, approximately 5,000 residents of eastern Jerusalem were allowed to vote at five post office branches and over 50,000 residents voted at polling places in Judea and Samaria.  Voting at the post offices was supervised by Israeli employees.  Approximately 1,500 residents voted in eastern Jerusalem.

Ahead of the 1996 elections, Israel made it known that the rights and status of the Palestinian residents of eastern Jerusalem would not be harmed to their participation in the voting process and the Israel Police assured their security.  In order to remove all doubts, Israel makes it known that this is its position regarding the 9 January 2005 elections.

Prime Minister Sharon commented on the format of the elections for residents of eastern Jerusalem, and said that the arrangements from 1996 that covered the matter of Palestinians voting in Israeli post offices, including Israeli security, and Israeli approval of the process – presents clear proof of Israel’s sovereignty over the whole of Jerusalem.  The method of voting, in which only a small number of the electorate votes in Jerusalem – with double envelopes, which are then transported outside of Jerusalem to be counted, with most eastern Jerusalem residents actually voting outside Jerusalem – resolves the issue, in practice.

Prime Minister Sharon emphasized that this agreement in no way, directly or indirectly infringes on Israel’s complete sovereignty over Jerusalem as its united capital city.

Regarding the foregoing, the Cabinet approved those activities that are necessary to allow the PA to hold elections in the same format, and under the same restrictions, as prevailed in the 1996 elections.

Prime Minister Sharon called on all government offices involved in the PA elections to aid in the smooth running of the elections; at the same time, the Prime Minister instructed the security establishment to do everything in order to prevent terror attacks during the election period.

3. The Cabinet decided, in accordance with the 1959 Civil Service Law, to approve the recommendation of the Civil Service committee and exempt from public tender the post of Deputy Commissioner for Public Complaints Regarding Judges, on condition that a special search committee is formed, the working principles of which have been previously determined by the Cabinet.

4. The Cabinet decided to establish a telephone call center in Jerusalem as follows: The call center will provide competitive services.  75% of its services will be for overseas customers. 70% of its employees will be new immigrants, haredim or minorities. Previously determined conditions remain in force.

5. The Cabinet decided not declare the natural events named below as natural disasters according to the 1989 Natural Disaster Victim Compensation Law. Nevertheless, the Cabinet did approve compensation to farmers whose assets were affected by the unusual amounts of precipitation that fell during February 2003.  The compensation will be provided by the Agriculture and Rural Development Ministry.

6. The Cabinet was briefed on plans for the 17th Maccabiah, which is due to open in Israel on 11 July 2005 in the Ramat Gan stadium. The event will be attended by 6,000 sportspeople, including 5,000 from abroad; approximately 20,000 visitors will arrive. The Maccabiah will last for 14 days, and will consist of 33 competitions in various sports. Prime Minister Sharon praised the event, and said that it serves to deepen and strengthen the relationship between Diaspora Jews and the State of Israel – with an emphasis on bringing Jewish youth closer to Israel.

7. Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz briefed ministers on current security matters, noting that Israel is in a complicated situation today, which demands determination and an uncompromising struggle against terrorism in all its forms, with an emphasis on the Kassam rockets and mortar shells on the one hand, and preparations for the elections in the Palestinian Authority on the other.  In addition, preparations for implementing the Disengagement Plan continue.

On the agenda are: Continuation of operational activities; completing preparations for Christmas celebrations and elections in the PA while minimizing potential friction and aiding the PA.

Israel will continue to act to maintain calm and restraint vis-a-vis Lebanon, where international pressure on Syria is increasing.

Defense Minister Mofaz added that the defense forces are continuing to act against terrorist activities.  He instructed the IDF to act immediately to prevent the continuation or mortar fire at Israeli communities in the Gaza Strip, and from the Gaza Strip at Israeli territory.

Tomorrow, (Monday), 27 December 2004, 113 security prisoners will be released along with 52 Palestinians who entered Israel illegally.

Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom discussed current diplomatic matters and commented on British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s visit to Israel and the Palestinian Authority last week.

Prime Minister Blair arrived in Israel with the idea of an international conference in London in February, which would deal with recruiting international aid and support for Palestinian reform, and to improve Palestinian security, economic and governing capabilities.  Foreign Minister Shalom said that Israel has a great interest in international support for Palestinian reforms, without which there can be no progress towards returning to the negotiating table.

Foreign Minister Shalom added that Europe today understands more than ever the necessity of fighting Palestinian terror and enacting reforms.  The Foreign Minister also discussed his visit to Brussels, where Israel and the European Union agreed on a plan for joint cooperation in the framework of the EU European Neighborhood Policy.

This week, Israeli ambassadors to European countries will meet in Jerusalem in order to plan on how to utilize the new movement in Israeli-European relations, and the new positive atmosphere that has been created in the diplomatic field.

Foreign Minister Shalom also commented on the export of apples to Syria, the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the concentration camps in Europe, the elections in Ukraine, anti-Semitism and Iraq.