(Communicated by the Cabinet Secretariat)

At the beginning of the meeting, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert made the following remarks:

“As I already announced, the government resolved to place the strengthening and development of Haifa and the north at the head of priorities. Today, the government will approve a long list of steps which are meant to immediately return the residents to their normal routines, and will assist in the most significant manner to strengthen Haifa and the north.

In the framework of the steps we will approve today, a cabinet to strengthen Haifa and the north will be established, which I will head, and the Acting Head of the Cabinet will be the Vice Prime Minister Responsible for the Negev and the Galilee. The Cabinet will, on a daily basis, lead the activities of the governmental system in order to implement the plans to strengthen Haifa and the north.

The Vice Prime Minister will coordinate the activities of a public committee for the initiation of business and investment projects in the region of Haifa and the north. In addition, Minister Peres will coordinate the activities to raise funds around the world, in the framework of donations from Jewish communities and organizations, which will all be transferred to Haifa and the north.

At the same time, a Directors General Committee will be established, headed by the Director General of the Prime Minister’s Office, which will prepare, within a short while, a detailed work plan, including a budget, whether from existing budgets or from additional budgets which were initially intended for other uses, in order to increase the national investment to strengthen Haifa and the north. The committee will especially concentrate on the subject of economic tools to immediately assist the residents and businesses in the north, treat special populations and trauma victims, as well as strengthen local authorities adversely affected by the fighting. The Ministry of the Interior will lead the treatment in everything related to the local authorities.

I wish to emphasize that I view the strengthening of Haifa and the north as a national mission.  And as such, it will be at the head of the government’s priorities.”

At the weekly Cabinet meeting 20 August 2006

1. The Cabinet was briefed by the Chief of the General Staff, the Head of the Israel Security Agency, the Minister of Defense and the Minister of Foreign Affairs concerning security and political aspects of the Lebanese and Palestinian arenas.

They  noted that the prevailing mood in Lebanon is one of account-taking and of profound loss, expressed in biting criticism among the non-Shi’ite population at the destruction that Hizbullah brought upon Lebanon, with Nasrallah himself being portrayed as the destroyer of Lebanon who embarked on an adventure for the sake of his benefactors, Syria and Iran.

Hizbullah suffered severe losses in lives and operational infrastructure and, even more significant, in its standing within Lebanon and among Arab leaders. Hizbullah is maintaining the ceasefire, but is focusing on rebuilding its forces and re-arming in order to restore its operational capabilities. In the domestic Lebanese arena, Nasrallah is working to restore the image of his organization in Lebanon and rehabilitating the south.

Syria, as can be seen from Bashar Assad’s speech praising Hizbullah, has come out clearly, in word and in action, on the side of the axis of opposition to Israel.

Since the acceptance of Resolution 1701, the UN Secretary General has been working to recruit forces for an enhanced, more authoritative UNIFIL. The enhancement of UNIFIL is designed to enable it to carry out its responsibilities under Security Council Resolution 1701, such as ensuring that no hostile activities take place in its area of operation and assisting the government of Lebanon in securing its borders and border crossing.

Last Thursday (17 August) the UN convened a meeting in New York of about 60 states that may contribute to the new force. The new operational concept and the rules of engagement were presented. Many countries, mostly from Europe and Asia, expressed interest in participating in the force by sending troops from the infantry, engineering corps, medical corps and communications, shore patrol ships and planes for air patrol. An evacuation force of about 3500 soldiers is expected to deploy within ten days.

Foreign Minister Livni, in a meeting with the UN Secretary General on Wednesday, 16 August, told him what Israel expected from the force. She is also in contact with her colleagues from the donor countries. Israel does not want the force to include soldiers from countries that expressed solidarity with Hizbullah during the hostilities. Israel does expect extensive participation of Europeans in the force, including from France, which will make a decision on the issue in the course of the week.

The head of the ISA reviewed recent developments in the Palestinian arena, which were shadowed by the events in the north.

2. The government discussed ways of strengthening and rehabilitating Haifa and the north, a matter of high national priority. It intends to formulate a comprehensive plan with the goals of (a) helping citizens and towns return to normal as quickly as possible (b) strengthening and developing Haifa and the north.

The government will establish a cabinet to strengthen Haifa and the north, headed by the Prime Minister and including the Vice Prime Minister as acting Chair, the Ministers of Defense, Finance, Industry and Trade, Education, the Interior, Health, Tourism, Housing, Justice and Agriculture and Rural Development, National Infrastructures, Transportation, Public Security, and Minister of Pensioner Affairs.

The cabinet will outline policy, approve plans to develop and strengthen Haifa and the north, and follow up on the implementation of the plans.

The Vice Prime Minister will also:

a. Establish a public committee of businessmen and economic experts to promote cooperation between the government and the business sector in initiating business projects and investing in Haifa and the north. The Vice Prime Minister will bring the committee’s recommendations to the Prime Minister and the cabinet.
b. Head fund-raising from the Jewish people, in coordination with other bodies such as the Jewish Agency, for the benefit of Haifa and the north, and to coordinate, in conjunction with the steering committee, between the donors (including the Jewish Agency), the local authorities and the government concerning the allocation of resources. He will submit a budget for the Cabinet’s approval.

It was also decided to establish a steering committee headed by the Director General of the Prime Minister’s Office. The committee will be composed of Director Generals of the ministries comprising the cabinet.

The plan will assist all communities in the north – Jewish, Arab, Bedouin, Circassian, and mixed – while taking into consideration the scope of damage, and the differences between the communities.

Three professional teams will be established, headed by the Directors General of the relevant Government offices, and charging them with formulating professional recommendations for 2006-2007, and presenting them to the steering committee.

A team headed by the Director General of the Office of the Vice Prime Minister will coordinate the Government’s work in implementing projects for the development and strengthening of Haifa and the north, while pooling the necessary resources, including additional funds for 2006-2007. The recommendations will be brought before the steering committee for approval.
During the first half of 2007, the team will formulate a continuation plan for 2008.

The Prime Minister informed the government of his appointment of Brig. Gen. (Res.) Amos Yaron to the position of chief coordinator of government activities in rehabilitating infrastructures and public institutions in Haifa and the north. The coordinator will be directly subordinate to the Prime Minister, and will be employed for one year.

The comprehensive, detailed plan will be brought to the cabinet for approval on 10 September 2006.

Upon the conclusion of fighting in the north, the government will focus on assisting in the speedy return of residents and communities in the north to their routines, while at the same time advancing projects to strengthen these communities, inter alia, through strengthening local authorities and promoting plans to develop projects which generate employment.

3. The Government discussed the matter of recognition, assistance and special compensation for reserve soldiers who served during the fighting in Lebanon.

4. The Government discussed the issue of allocating financial bequests in 2007 to public institutions in the northern communities and in the communities of the Gaza envelope.

5. Following the cease-fire, which took effect along the northern border on August 14, 2006 as a result of UN Security Council Resolution 1701 of August 11, 2006, it was resolved to cancel the declaration of a special situation on the home front implemented by the Minister of Defense and approved by the Government and the Knesset Committee for Foreign Affairs and Security.
A return to routine is expected to reduce the economic repercussions resulting from the special situation on the home front which prevailed because of the fighting among the civilian population.

6. In accordance with the Law for the Authority to Develop and Advance Culture, Tourism and Foreign Relations of Jerusalem of 2005, the Government decided to appoint Minister Yaakov Edri, Chairman of the Ministerial Committee for Greater Jerusalem Affairs, to be the Minister Responsible for this Law.