(Communicated by the Cabinet Secretariat)

At the weekly Cabinet meeting today (Sunday), 18 April 2004:

1. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, in his name and on behalf of the government, praised the security forces for the successful operation last night in which Hamas leader Abdul Aziz Rantisi was eliminated.  The Prime Minister said that his policy is built on an effort to open a diplomatic process that could greatly benefit Israel and an effort to fight the terror organizations, terrorists and anyone whose aim is to attack Israeli civilians.  The Prime Minister noted that yesterday’s operation took place in this framework.

Prime Minister Sharon emphasized that the aforementioned policy – to advance a diplomatic process and to attack terrorist organizations and their leaders – will continue.

Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz said that Rantisi was one of those responsible for formulating Hamas terror policy, was a source of inspiration for suicide terrorists, and was a militant leader who called for Israel’s destruction. Neither did Rantisi hesitate to call for terror attacks against Americans in Iraq.

Defense Minister Mofaz commented that he believes that with the attack on Yassin, and now on Rantisi, Hamas has been severely weakened.  It is important that every terrorist leader knows that they are not immune and that Israel will continue to strike at them and at terrorists at the same time as it advances the diplomatic/security process of disengagement.

2. Prime Minister Sharon briefed the cabinet on his recent visit to Washington, where he met with US President George Bush.  Prime Minister Sharon thanked the negotiating team led by the Director of his Bureau, Dov Weisglass, on its outstanding hard work.  The Prime Minister noted that an injustice has recently been done to Mr. Weisglass and that we must thank him for his dedication and achievements.  Shalom Turgeman, the Prime Minister’s Diplomatic Adviser, National Security Council Chairman Maj. Gen (Res.) Giora Eiland and Israeli Ambassador to the US Danny Ayalon were also thanked for their work, as were the other members of the negotiating team.

The Prime Minister noted that this was one of the most important visits for the security and future of the State of Israel.  His meeting with US President Bush ended months of long negotiations with the US administration.

Prime Minister Sharon received a letter from President Bush, which indirectly expressed his support for the disengagement plan, and included clear American statements, which did not leave room for misunderstandings or doubt as to the position of the US.

Prime Minister Sharon pointed out that there were two aspects to US support: Support for the interim period including political and security aid while the plan is being implemented, and a clear US position on issues directly dealing with the permanent settlement between Israel and the Palestinians.

The Prime Minister asserted Israel has not – since its establishment – received such unprecedented political support, as expressed in President Bush’s letter, which includes:

  • Remaining committed to the Roadmap: The US has expressed its dedication to the government’s fundamental principal that there will not be negotiations under fire.  The US pledged not to adopt any other political plan, and not to carry out any diplomatic negotiations with the Palestinians while they have not carried out their obligations as laid out in the Roadmap, which is to cease terror, to dismantle terrorist organizations and to carry out comprehensive reforms in the Palestinian Authority.
  • Decisive US recognition of Israel’s right to secure and defendable borders.  In addition, the US recognizes Israel’s right to defend itself, in every place, and to retain its deterrent power against its enemies.
  • US recognition of Israel’s right to defend itself against terror attacks and against terrorist organizations in every place, including areas Israel has withdrawn from.  This is the other dimension of the disengagement plan. This clause is meant to give Israel the political/military security, after it has implemented the plan, for an unlimited period of time, until the conditions have been met to continue implementing the Roadmap.
  • The US stated its position on essential matters to Israel, in matters relating to the final status agreement: Refugees and borders will be fixed according to defense and settlement considerations.  Negotiations for the final settlement will be between Israel and the Palestinians, but the critical point is that if during the negotiations there is a disagreement on these issues and Israel insists on retaining its position, the US will support Israel, and this will give Israel a stronger position.  This is an unprecedented achievement.
  • The US expressed its unequivocal view that Palestinian refugees will not be allowed to return to Israel.
  • US recognition that there will be no return to the 1967 borders, due to two principal considerations: Settlement blocs and implementing the idea of “defendable borders.”
  • According to the US position, the large settlement blocs will remain under Israeli control in any situation.  Every other area in Judea and Samaria will be open for negotiation.
  • Determining clear conditions for the establishment of a future Palestinian
    state.

The Prime Minister emphasized that in the stages of preparing the plan, the US were our partners and supporters.  US President Bush expressed sweeping support of the plan, and sees it as an historical process with huge potential to bring Israel and region forward.  With this President Bush is determined, that if Israel implements its part of the plan, to give all components of defense and political security.

Prime Minister Sharon responded to comments that the disengagement plan is a prize for terror and for the Palestinian Authority, and argued that the best way to refute this is to examine the Palestinian position.  The Palestinians, as well as all Arab states responded with anger and disgust to US President Bush’s letter and see it as a harsh strategic blow.

The Palestinians understood that the first stage in the process has been taken whereby Israel and the US have begun to fashion the face of the region without the Palestinians, as long as the Palestinians continue to refrain from carrying out their obligations.  There is nothing more the Palestinians fear more, and this is the first time the Palestinians feel they have lost assets, because they are not acting.  It is enough to hear the statement of the Palestinian Prime Minister who said that the United States favors Israel and has taken away the few cards the Palestinians have for the final status negotiations.

Prime Minister Sharon said that the government would not discuss the disengagement plan until after the Likud referendum on the matter, when an unlimited discussion will be held in which every minister will be able to express his or her opinion on the plan.

The Prime Minister emphasized that every member of the cabinet will have to show the necessary responsibility and to decide whether or not to vote for the plan, which will allow the political and security backing from the US, or to vote against the plan and to throw back the unequivocal, comprehensive and historical security support to the US.  The Prime Minister said, “We will need to decide if we want to reject the plan and go to the final status talks on these critical issues which are so essential to the existence of the State of Israel: No right of return for Palestinian refugees and borders to be fixed according to settlement and defense considerations, without American backing.”

In relation to the fence, the Prime Minister clarified that it will be built according to the full route decided by the government and that the government will act to ensure it is completed before any communities are evacuated.

3. Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz stated that the understandings reached between the Prime Minister and US President Bush struck the Palestinians a harsh blow and said that the Palestinian Authority views these understandings as distancing them further from achieving their strategic goal.  The message is that this is the price for 3.5 years of terror lead by Yasser Arafat after he rejected a very generous Israeli diplomatic offer. The Defense Minister stated his belief that the disengagement plan will be good for the Israeli people economically, diplomatically and vis-a-vis security.

In addition, the Defense Minister commented that we are witnesses to the continued efforts of the terror organizations, with the encouragement of foreign sources, to perpetrate terror attacks in Israel.  Israel has, in recent weeks, invested a huge effort to foil terror attacks through intelligence and special – including military – operations; these operations thwarted and prevented a large number of terror attacks and allowed the people of Israel to enjoy the Passover festivities.

The security establishment plans to continue with its special preparedness at least until after Independence Day.

4. The Cabinet decided to extend until 15 June 2004, the time given to the ministerial committee on the matter of the report of the committee investigating the clashes between Israeli security forces and Israeli civilians in October 2000 (the Or Commission) in order for it to submit its recommendations.

5. The Cabinet decided to extend by 30 days the date by which the team formulating recommendations on boosting the Israeli information effort must submit its proposals.