(Communicated by the Cabinet Secretariat)

At the weekly Cabinet meeting today (Sunday), 20 November 2005:

1. Finance Minister Ehud Olmert briefed ministers on the privatization of Bank Leumi and thanked Prime Minister Ariel Sharon for backing him and the Finance Ministry throughout the privatization process.

2. Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz briefed ministers on current security matters. He said that the security establishment is working on the assumption that the terrorist organizations are liable to perpetrate bomb attacks at any time and referred to the number of warnings. The Defense Minister has reiterated his instructions to the security establishment to step up its deployments in order to prevent infiltrations into Israel from Judea and Samaria, Sinai and the Gaza Strip.

Defense Minister Mofaz discussed arrests in Judea and Samaria and his instructions to continue pinpoint counter-terrorist operations only against “ticking bombs” because they are the most effective means of deterrence.

Defense Minister Mofaz said that recently there have been the first signs of an increase in Palestinian security activity and noted that the Palestinian Authority (PA) has, in this context, begun to implement a plan to deal with the anarchy in Judea and Samaria. However, in the current security circumstances and in light of the PA’s ineffectualness, Israel is compelled to act both in Judea and Samaria and in the Gaza Strip in order to prevent terrorist attacks.

Defense Minister Mofaz discussed the implementation of the crossings agreement, Hamas’s participation in the upcoming Palestinian elections and the situation on the northern border.

3. Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom briefed ministers on his unprecedented visit to Tunisia as the head of the Israeli delegation to the World Summit of the Information Society and his meetings with Tunisian leaders. He said that it was his impression that the Tunisian leadership had made a strategic decision to show warmth and openness to the Israeli delegation in order to advance bilateral relations and play a more significant role in regional affairs. Foreign Minister Shalom and his Tunisian hosts discussed ways to increase bilateral tourism and trade. The Foreign Minister said that his participation in the upcoming Barcelona Conference would be an additional opportunity to promote normalization with Arab countries.

Foreign Minister Shalom discussed the Iranian nuclear issue and the intense diplomatic activity in its regard.

Foreign Minister Shalom praised the European Union’s decision to accede to Israel and the PA’s request to fulfill an effective observer role at the Rafiah crossing. European involvement has an importance that transcends the particular issue of the Rafiah crossing.

4. The Cabinet discussed the national, strategic Negev development plan and – in the context of its various activities to promote the development and growth of the Negev between 2006-2015 and in continuation of its previous decisions – decided to approve the following principles and outline:

The strategic plan is designed to achieve four main goals:

A. Population – to increase the population of the Negev from approximately 535,000 (at the end of 2003) to approximately 900,000 by 2015;

B. Employment – to increase the number of employed persons in the Negev from approximately 164,000 (at the end of 2003) to approximately 300,000 by 2015;

C. Wages – to reduce by 60% the average per capita income gap between the Negev and the national average;

D. Students – to equalize the number of students among the Jewish population in the 20-29 age bracket (12.1%) to the national average (15.6%) and to increase the number of students in the Bedouin population in the 2029 age bracket from 2.2% (as of 2001) to at least 5% by 2015.

The development of the Negev will concentrate in five main areas:

A. Economic development;

B. Education – narrowing the gaps and investing in excellency;

C. Housing and communities – to strengthen communities in the Negev and create a unique quality of life;

D. Infrastructure and environmental development – Investment in transportation infrastructure;

E. Community leadership – promote regional cooperation and leadership, and the creation of younger populations.

Between 2006-2015, the Government will grant tangible preferences to the Negev over other regions in principal areas. The Government will allocate – directly and indirectly – NIS 17 billion between 2006-2015.

A team composed, inter alia, of Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) Director-General Ilan Cohen and the Finance Ministry Budget Director, in cooperation with the relevant Government ministries, will prepare a detailed working plan on the implementation of the Negev development plan within 60 days.

An inter-ministerial steering committee of ministry directors-general and other senior officials, to be chaired by PMO Director-General Cohen, will supervise the implementation of the multi-year plan and make such changes as may be necessary due to the progress of implementation and changing circumstances. The PMO Division for Coordination, Follow-Up and Control will monitor implementation of the plan.

Developing the Negev is one of the Government’s main goals and is vital to both the State of Israel in general and the residents of the Negev in particular. The Negev constitutes 60% of Israel’s area but contains only 8% of its population. The area under the plan will extend south from a line running from Sderot to Beit Kama junction, to Arad and to the Dead Sea, with the exception of the city of Eilat. The Bedouin constitute approximately 25% of the Negev’s population and are an inseparable part of it. The plan is designed to fully integrate them into the region’s fabric of life. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon commended Vice Premier Shimon Peres’s work and dedication.

5. The Cabinet decided to establish a public company to supervise the development, establishment, administration and maintenance of the Ayalon Park.

6. The Cabinet – in accordance with the Government’s policy guidelines and in continuation of the various programs it operates to encourage immigration to Israel and the successful absorption of new immigrants – decided to confirm its support of experienced organizations that operate programs to encourage immigration and promote the successful absorption of new immigrants.

Prime Minister Sharon said: “I ascribe great importance to the issue of immigration and bringing Jews to the country. Wherever I have visited in the world, I have called on Jews to immigrate to Israel. This is very important and we must all work on this mission. As you ministers travel around the world, set this issue as one of your main goals.”

7. The Cabinet, in accordance with both Communications Minister Dalia Itzik’ s proposal and the 1990 Second Authority for Television and Radio Law, decided to appoint Nurit Davosh as the Chairwoman of the Second Authority for Television and Radio Council.

8. The Cabinet, in accordance with the 1959 Civil Service Law (Appointments), decided to approve the appointment of Yadin Antabi as Finance Ministry Director of Capital Markets, Insurance and Savings.

9. The Cabinet, in accordance with the 1971 Jewish Religious Services Law, decided to set the religious councils’ budgets for 2005 and to determine that local authorities will cover 60% of the religious councils’ budgets.