(Communicated by the Cabinet Secretariat)

At the weekly Cabinet meeting today (Sunday), 17 April 2005:

1. Prime Minister Sharon briefed ministers on his recent visit to the US: “I had an important diplomatic visit in the US last week.  US President George Bush hosted me at his farm in Texas, together with Vice President Richard Cheney, Secretary of State Dr. Condoleeza Rice and National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley. The meetings took place in a warm and friendly atmosphere.

The purpose of the visit was to strengthen the special relationship that exists between Israel and the US, to express unequivocal US support for the Disengagement Plan and to show solidarity with the Israeli government on the many difficulties it faces in implementing the Plan. Furthermore, we wished to strengthen bilateral understandings on several important strategic issues. I believe that we were successful in all the targets we set for ourselves.

President Bush emphasized the US’s commitment to Israel’s security and that it should retain its Jewish character. He also reiterated his commitment to all the issues in his April 2004 letter, including:

  • Israel’s right to self-defense.
  • Commitment to the Roadmap, and all its stages, as the only diplomatic plan, and that any progress will be made according to it.
  • The need for reform in the Palestinian Authority.
  • The need for immediate and decisive Palestinian actions in the war on terrorism and the dismantling of terrorist infrastructure as a condition for progress on the Roadmap.
  • President Bush reiterated his commitment to the US position that in any future permanent settlement, all the major settlement blocs would remain part of the State of Israel.

I would like to relate to reports in the Israeli media over the weekend, to the effect that after the Disengagement Plan, Israel intends to implement another disengagement plan in Judea and Samaria. I would like to deny these reports and emphasize that the matter was not even been mentioned in my meetings in the US. I made it clear to the President that Israel’s position is that the only diplomatic plan that exists is the Roadmap. After the necessary conditions are fulfilled for implementing it, with a genuine Palestinian war on terrorism being first and foremost, along with the dismantling of terrorist infrastructure and the implementation of comprehensive reforms, only then will we make progress on the Roadmap. The permanent settlement will only be discussed in the third stage. This has been and remains our position and that of the US.

I was impressed that the US’s position in all these matters has not changed even after the American elections. The Americans reiterated that their position on the issue of settlements has not changed since the settlement enterprise began.  We agreed that we would discuss this matter in the future.

President Bush called on the Palestinian Authority to coordinate the Disengagement Plan with Israel. He added that the US is interested in aiding the Plan in order to ensure its success. Therefore, President Bush announced that he would appoint outgoing World Bank Chairman James Wolfensohn as coordinator for economic matters related to disengagement, and to assist in rebuilding the economy in Gaza after Israel’s departure.

The President expressed support for my intentions to develop the Negev and the Galilee, both economically and socially. President Bush agreed to assist us in implementing this plan, and regarding with other elements of the Disengagement Plan. This week, Finance Ministry Director-General Yossi Bechar will leave for the US in order to begin discussions with professional officials on details of the US financial assistance.

During my visit, I also met separately with Vice President Cheney, Secretary of State Dr. Rice, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Jewish members of Congress, Senate and House of Representatives leaders, and Jewish community leaders.

In addition to the Palestinian issue, other regional matters were raised including – inter alia – the Iranian nuclear threat, the withdrawal of Syrian forces from Lebanon, the situation in Lebanon after Syria’s withdrawal and in light of Hezbollah threats, and the smuggling of weapons from Egypt.

In all my meetings I felt growing friendship towards, and solidarity with, Israel and appreciation of the steps we are taking. The visit represents a cornerstone in our special bilateral relationship and there is no doubt that it added to the depth of understanding on all the strategic issues that are important to us and our security.”

2. In order to strengthen relations with Jordan, and to strengthen Arab states that support advancing relations with Israel, the Cabinet decided that, as a gesture of goodwill towards Jordanian King Abdullah II, to recommend that President Moshe Katsav and other relevant bodies agree to release eight Jordanian prisoners and to transfer them to Jordan. The proposed candidates were examined by a committee chaired by Justice Ministry  Director-General Aharon Abramovitz, and were found to be suitable for release. These are prisoners who do not have “blood on their hands.” In addition, another Jordanian prisoner who has finished serving his sentence will also be sent back to Jordan, thus bringing the total number of prisoners to be released to nine.

Moreover, the Cabinet asked the committee to make recommendations on ways of dealing with Jordanians who are residing illegally in Israel.

3. The Cabinet approved Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s proposal that sets special work procedures for all matters regarding advancing the implementation of the Disengagement Plan.

The decision determines that a special ministerial committee chaired by Prime Minister Sharon, and with the participation of Industry, Trade and Employment Minister Ehud Olmert, Vice Premier Shimon Peres, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Interior Minister Ophir Pines-Paz, Construction and Housing Minister Yitzhak Herzog, Agriculture Minister Yisrael Katz and Environment Minister Shalom Simhon will be authorized to make decisions in all matters regarding Government preparations ahead of the implementation of the Disengagement Plan  in the civil sphere, when the committee’s decisions are approved by the Cabinet.

The decision defines the ministries’ directors-general forum, chaired by Prime Minister’s Office director-General Ilan Cohen, as the body that will coordinate and promote the implementation of the Disengagement Plan in the civil sphere.  The directors-general forum will consider the feasibility of the establishment of sites designated for community or urban settlement for Gaza Strip and northern Samaria evacuees, and will make recommendations to the aforementioned ministerial committee regarding the implementation of the Disengagement Plan.

According to the decision, all ministries participating in the implementation of the Disengagement Plan will appoint a senior employee to be responsible for the ministry’s preparations ahead of the implementation of the Disengagement Plan, with the representatives of the various ministries working in full coordination.

The decision also defined that, in keeping with the opinion of Attorney-General Meni Mazuz, those instances in which it would be necessary and desirable to make use of the clauses regarding exemption from public tender in the public tender rules regarding contacts requiring special urgency in implementing the Disengagement Plan.  Thus, the time needed for contacts between the Government and various suppliers will be significantly shortened.

The Israel Lands Administration Council will define those cases in which exemptions from public tender will be awarded regarding land transactions with Gaza Strip and northern Samaria residents. These rules will enable the immediate allocation of lands for the residents’ benefit.

4. The Cabinet, in accordance with the proposal of Prime Minister Sharon and Communications Minister Dalia Itzik, decided to approve changes to the 1997 Bezek directive, as per the recommendations of the July 2004 decision of the ministerial Committee on Privatization regarding the sale of the state’s holdings in Bezek.

5. The Cabinet discussed the cost of the health services basket to the various health funds and – in continuation of its previous decisions – decided that cost of the basket to the health funds in 2005 would be NIS 21,958,000.

6. The Cabinet discussed the draft decision regarding the Ayalon Park project.