(Communicated by the Cabinet Secretariat)

At the weekly Cabinet meeting today (Sunday), 6 February 2005:

1. The Cabinet discussed the situation of religious services and religious structures, and local authorities’ debts to religious councils. Ministers heard briefings on the these issues, according to which there has been a complete freeze since January 2004 on the renovation and construction of religious structures (ritual baths and synagogues). Prime Minister Ariel Sharon summarized the briefings and subsequent discussion by saying that the situation regarding religious structures will be fully resolved by this summer, and that the synagogues will – upon completion of their construction – be delivered to the local authorities. The Prime Minister instructed that the issue of the renovation and construction of ritual baths be finished as soon as possible even as the issue is examined in accordance with the proposal of Prime Minister’s Office Director-General Ilan Cohen, Construction and Housing Ministry Director-General Shmuel Abuav and Attorney General Meni Mazuz.

Prime Minister Sharon emphasized the major importance of providing religious services to the population. He said that while the issue of religious council reforms will be submitted to the Cabinet this month, the implementation of the reforms taking several months, during which time the local authorities will have to transfer some of the religious councils’ budgets. The Prime Minister said there cannot be a situation in which ritual bath attendants and rabbis go unpaid and in which religious services are not provided due to the non-payment of salaries. Israel must have proper religious services.

2. Health Minister Danny Naveh and the Health Ministry Director-General briefed ministers on the plight of Israel’s hospitals vis-a-vis hospitalization during the current winter, the situation at internal medicine wards and the immediate steps being taken by the Health Ministry to alleviate the situation. Minister Naveh also discussed the costs of the steps necessary in order to overcome the hospitals’ plight.

3. Ministers were briefed on current security matters. Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz said that the upcoming Sharm el-Sheikh summit is at the focus of developments and is likely to accelerate the process between Israel and the Palestinians (if the summit is a success).

Defense Minister Mofaz said that in order to establish the recent positive momentum, the Palestinians must vigorously, effectively and continuously expand and advance their dealing with terrorism. The Palestinian Authority (PA) must take a more active line against terrorist elements and in counter-terrorist activities, and enforce calm on all organizations and elements in the field.

Defense Minister Mofaz said that the past week had been characterized by an upsurge in activity by the terrorist organizations in order to disrupt the calm.

In order to take full advantage of the opportunity in the Palestinian sphere, Israel intends to increase security coordination and continue easing restrictions on the population in order to support Palestinian efforts to prevent terrorism. The Defense Minister emphasized that such a fragile and delicate period requires great sensitivity in the use of force, according to developments on the ground and the negotiations. He added that there is a continuous dialogue in the field in the Gaza Strip.

Defense Minister Mofaz discussed both the situation in Iraq following the recent elections and the Iranian situation.

Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom briefed ministers on diplomatic issues. On the Palestinian issue, he noted that in recent days there has been a considerable trend towards change in the character of broadcasts on Palestinian television. This has found expression in the halt to inflammatory broadcasts, which had been an integral part of broadcasts in the Arafat era. Also, praises and a personality cult of the PA Chairman, which had been a staple in the Arafat era, are completely absent. These measures to change the face of the Palestinian media are welcome steps by Abu Mazen in changing the PA’s social-civil agenda. However, the changes must be far-reaching and must include dealing with the formation of Palestinian social consciousness, especially by the educational system and the universities, where tangible changes in inflammatory content have yet to be made.

Foreign Minister Shalom discussed Abu Mazen’s visits to Jordan, Egypt and Russia. Abu Mazen’s main messages on his trips dealt with his desire to enhance regional security.

Foreign Minister Shalom briefed ministers on Syria’s efforts in Lebanon in the face of increasing pressure to implement UN Security Council Resolution #1559, which calls for a Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon, and in light of the expected May parliamentary elections in Lebanon.

Foreign Minister Shalom said that Israel is continuing its diplomatic operation to have Hizbullah included on the terrorism list.

4. The Cabinet approved the QIZ agreement with Egypt.

5. The Cabinet approved the principles of the draft of the 2005 Security Service Law (Emergency Directive) (Stationing IDF veterans in the Prison Service) and authorized the Ministerial Committee on Legislation to both approve the final draft and present it to the Knesset. The draft law seeks to regulate the stationing of IDF soldiers who have completed their compulsory service with the Prison Service in order to guard and secure prison installations in which security prisoners are held.

6. The Cabinet approved the 2005 Security Service Order (Recognized Service for Achieving National Security Goals). The Order determines that the Defense Minister, in right of his authority under law, and in consultation with the Education, Culture and Sports Minister, the Immigrant Absorption Minister, the Health Minister and the Justice Minister, and in light of current relevant circumstances, if the activities specified below are not are not carried out by those who have completed their compulsory IDF service, that national security goals will not be properly achieved, and with the approval of the Government and the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee; the Defense Minister so orders that the following activities be qualify as recognized service according to law:
A) In education – education, instruction, supervision and community service in the frameworks of the education Ministry, the Industry, Trade and Employment Ministry, the Social Welfare Ministry, the Immigrant Absorption Ministry, the Defense Ministry, community centers, the JNF, the Israel Nature and National Parks Protection Authority, the Society for the Protection of Nature, Neot Kedumim, Sde Boker College, the “Latet” non-profit Association, the Independent Education Center, the Ma’ayan Center for Torah Education in the Land of Israel, the Association for the Restoration and Development of the Rosh Pina Heritage National Site and Yad Vashem;
B) in health – nursing and support staff positions in hospitals under the supervision of the Ministry of Health and in which soldiers and security establishment personnel are hospitalized;
C) in activities on behalf of IDF soldiers – support staff positions at the Soldiers Welfare Association. This order shall be valid for one year from the date of its publication.

7. The Cabinet decided, in accordance with the 1959 Civil Service Law, to exempt from public tender, positions for judges’ legal assistants on condition that a collective pool is established from which judges will select their assistants. This decision abrogates previous relevant Cabinet decisions.

8. The Cabinet approved the new composition of the Ministerial Committee on the Release of Palestinian Prisoners. Prime Minister Sharon will chair the committee. The other members are: Vice Premier Shimon Peres, Foreign Minister Shalom, Defense Minister Mofaz, Public Security Minister Gideon Ezra, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Minister Haim Ramon.  Attorney General Meni Mazuz will be invited to attend all meetings.

The Committee will deal with the release of Palestinian prisoners according to the circumstances which prevailed at the time and in relation to the Palestinians honoring their commitments – all according to the criteria and guidelines that have been approved by Attorney General Mazuz.