(Communicated by the Cabinet Secretariat)

At the weekly Cabinet meeting today (Sunday), February 22, 2004:

1. Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz briefed ministers on current security matters, including this morning’s deadly suicide bombing of a Jerusalem bus. Even so, he noted that there has been a decline in Palestinian terrorist activity in the wake of the Israeli security establishment’s counter-terrorism campaign. The Defense Minister also discussed the arrest of fugitives in Judea, Samaria and Gaza last week and noted the foiling of an attempt to smuggle war materiel from Egypt into the Rafiah area of the Gaza Strip, using 12-14-year-old youths, one of whom was killed.

Defense Minister Mofaz referred to US President George Bush’s recent interview with Middle East Television Network in which he demanded that Syria prevent its territory being used for planning terrorist attacks, prevent its territory being used to pass on orders to terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah, and prevent terrorists from infiltrating into Iraq from Syria.

Defense Minister Mofaz said that a recent friendly-fire incident in Hebron is being investigated and referred to the recent addition of the first two F-16I jets to the air force.

Regarding the Palestinian Authority (PA), Defense Minister Mofaz said that Israel’s intention to leave the Gaza Strip is causing unease in the PA, especially in regard to what will happen in the evacuated areas. The move is expected to prod the PA into preparing to take control of the area in order to prevent Hamas from doing so. The Defense Minister said that the PA leadership is concerned that an internationally-backed disengagement would signify the de-legitimization of the PA as a partner for advancing the roadmap.

2. Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom briefed ministers on various foreign policy issues and his discussions with German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, Belgian Foreign Minister Louis Michel and Slovenian Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel, all of whom visited Israel last week. The visits came in the context of strengthening contacts with Europe as part of Israel’s integration into the "Wider Europe" program. Foreign Minister Shalom noted that among the issues he discussed with his European counterparts were anti-Semitism in Europe and the urgent need to fight it, European ideas on reform and modernization in the Arab world, and Europe’s views on steps being taken in Israel vis-a-vis both the situation on the ground and the implementation of the roadmap.

Foreign Minister Shalom referred to the International Court of Justice in The Hague’s deliberations on the terrorism prevention fence, which are due to start tomorrow, and noted that aside from the PA, the Arab League, and Islamic Conference, only 12 countries have expressed their desire to participate in the discussions. The Foreign Minister said that this is a clear and sharp message to the effect that the international community neither support, nor wants, nor is interested in, these deliberations by the ICJ.

3. Minister Natan Sharansky briefed ministers on his recent visit to Europe and his participation in the conference on anti-Semitism sponsored by European Commission President Romano Prodi and the World Jewish Congress. Minister Sharansky said that Europe is seeing the success of the Foreign Ministry’s campaign to change several countries’ positions towards Israel. The speakers at the seminar emphasized that not all criticism of Israel is legitimate and referred to the perception in Europe that anti-Semitism which comes from Islamic countries endangers European countries’ stability. Minister Sharansky said that this was the first time in which it was possible to see agreement between European representatives, European Jews and Israel and that therefore, there was a greater understanding of the problem of anti-Semitism.

4. Tourism Minister Benny Elon discussed positive trends in the tourism sector.