(Communicated by the Cabinet Secretariat)

At the weekly Cabinet meeting today (Sunday), 31 July 2005:

1. The Jewish People Policy Planning Institute (JPPPI) presented ministers with its 2005 assessment on the state of the Jewish people and the steps that must be taken in order to strengthen it. JPPPI Director-General Avinoam Bar-Yosef, JPPPI President Prof. Yehezkel Dror and JPPPI Senior Fellow Prof. David Dery presented the report. They also discussed the state of Israeli society in wake of the Disengagement Plan, various demographic issues, fertility policy and the status of Diaspora Jewish communities. They also presented a series of recommendations regarding various aspects of immigration policy, a wider role of Jewish people considerations into government decision-making, building up Jewish identity in the diaspora, and a multi-year science and technology policy for Israel.

Prime Minister Sharon said that his main concern was the situation of the Jewish people in 30 years, in 300 years and – with God’s help – in another 3,000 years. He said that it was necessary to act to expand Jewish-Zionist and scientific-technological education. Similarly, immigration to Israel and strengthening ties with Diaspora Jewish communities are of utmost importance. To these ends, the Hebrew language, Bible, Jewish history, the history of the Land of Israel and Jewish life in the state of Israel must be studied. The Prime Minister thanked the JPPI representatives and emphasized the importance of their work.

2. In accordance with Article 31b of Basic Law: The Government, the Cabinet decided to transfer the authority of Transportation Minister under the 1963 Aviation Services Licensing Law to the Tourism Minister, regarding the requests by Israir and Arkia vis-a-vis service on the Tel Aviv-New York route, in order to prevent even the appearance of a conflict of interest on the Transportation Minister’s part, given the considerable trade and commercial importance of the companies’ requests.

3. The Cabinet decided, in accordance with the 1959 Civil Service Law (Appointments) to appoint a special search committee to select a chairperson for the Netiv Liaison Bureau in the Prime Minister’s Office. Cabinet Secretary Yisrael Maimon will chair the committee; the other members will be Civil Service Commissioner Shmuel Hollander or his representative, Immigration Absorption Ministry Director-General Mirla Gal, a senior ISA representative expert in Netiv’s activities to be appointed by Civil Service Commissioner Hollander in consultation with Cabinet Secretary Maimon and a senior academic expert regarding the Jewish communities of the former Soviet Union to be appointed by Cabinet Secretary Maimon in consultation with Civil Service Commissioner Hollander.

4.  The Cabinet discussed the forthcoming agreement to purchase natural gas between the Israel Electric Corp. and Eastern Mediterranean Gas (EMG), and decided according to paragraph 11(a)(9a) of the 1975 Public Companies Law, to approve Israel Electric Corporation’s 21 July 2005 decision to approve the agreement.

This approval in no way represents a limitation on the government or on any of its authorities in carrying out its policies, including in relation to their position and authority. The agreement will cover a period of 15 years, with an option to extend for 5 years on the same conditions.

EMG will establish a pipeline from El Arish to Ashkelon, including all the necessary installations as well as the installation in Ashkelon. EMG, or one of its subsidiary companies, will sign an agreement with the Israel Natural Gas company regarding connecting the EMG system to Israel’s system. 

The expected 15-year cost is $2.5 billion. The cost of the agreement throughout will be priced in US $, based on a base price and linked to the price of fuels, and will fluctuate between an upper and lower price. 1.2 billion cubic meters will be purchased in the first year, with an annual supply of 1.7 cubic meters for the subsequent 14 years. There is an option to increase the yearly amount by 25%.

Israel Electric Corp. will provide EMG with a bank guarantee of $180 million, when the agreement is signed. The bank guarantee will be in place for seven years, and the amount will reduce by 20% per annum from the third year. EMG will give Israel Electric Corp. a guarantee from EGAS/EGPC (Egyptian natural gas companies) on the matter of supplying the gas.

5. The Cabinet discussed the necessary qualifications for the Director of the Antitrust Authority and approved the following:  Academic – a BA (at least) in law or economics (an MA in law, a license to practice law and membership of the Israel Bar Association would be preferable); experience – senior administrative experience in working with large numbers of employees, academic legal/commercial/administrative writing; practical experience in administrative/trade law or in teaching the same; practical experience in senior economic/financial positions in large organizations; experience in teaching economics; judicial experience. Other demands include expertise in the relevant commercial fields, senior negotiating ability, the ability to appear at professional forums in Israel and abroad, knowledge of English sufficient to read professional literature.

6. The Cabinet discussed Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s appeal against last month’s decision by the Ministerial Committee on Foreign Workers regarding changing Government policy vis-a-vis issuing permits for foreign workers in agriculture.  The Cabinet approved the following arrangement between the Finance and the Industry, Trade and Employment ministries: Article 2 of the Committee’s 7 June 2005 decision (which authorizes the responsible Government official, in exceptional cases, to exempt those employing foreign workers from paying wages) is cancelled. An instruction will be inserted into Article 3 stating that those applying for permits to employ foreign workers must sign an affidavit declaring that they will pay workers a wage that will not be less than that determined in government decisions.

7. Education, Culture and Sports Minister Limor Livnat raised the issue of Tuesday’s demonstration by those who oppose the Disengagement Plan. Public Security Minister Gideon Ezra and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni briefed ministers on the issue.