(Communicated by the Cabinet Secretariat)

At the weekly cabinet meeting today (Sunday, 19 Nov 2006):

1. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert briefed ministers on his visit to the USA last week. The visit had two main goals: meet with Jewish community leaders at the United Jewish Communities General Assembly in Los Angeles and meet with US President George Bush and senior administration officials.

Prime Minister Olmert discussed both his address to the UJC GA and his meeting with US President Bush.

2. Defense Minister Amir Peretz, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz, and ISA Director Yuval Diskin briefed ministers on security and diplomatic issues from last week.

Defense Minister Peretz discussed events in Sderot and noted that the local population had been hit, including one woman who was fatally wounded.  He said that Israel was faced with two principal security issues in the South: The accumulation of weapons and armaments in the Gaza Strip and how to deal with Kassam missiles.  These are separate issues and are being dealt with separately.

Defense Minister Peretz discussed the IDF action in Beit Hanoun and said that Israel knows what needs to be done in order to reduce Kassam fire and push the launchers into areas in which they will be compelled to operate less freely.  He stressed that IDF actions in general, and in Southern Command in particular, are important and vital and added that they – as well as the senior IDF command, including the General Staff, Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Halutz, etc. – must enjoy full and unequivocal government backing.

Halutz and ISA Director Diskin briefed ministers on the military and economic situation of the Palestinian population in the Gaza Strip, Fatah-Hamas relations, and efforts to establish a unity government in the Palestinian Authority.

Foreign Minister Livni discussed the recent UN General Assembly session, which adopted a resolution on the events in Beit Hanoun.  She also briefed ministers on the EU foreign ministers’ statement regarding the events in Beit Hanoun.

Foreign Minister Livni referred to the Arab League decision to end the economic siege of the Palestinian Authority (PA) and said that the decision would be devoid of practical effect, since Arab banks would prevent financial transfers to Hamas as long as US banks threaten to impose sanctions on international elements involved in transferring funds to Hamas.

Livni discussed the controversy over the wording of the draft decision to impose sanctions on Iran and Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos’s initiative to convene an international conference to advance Israel-Palestinian negotiations. The foreign minister made it clear to her Spanish counterpart that Israel has no intention of supporting an initiative that it is not coordinated with it.

Prime Minister Olmert said that a technocratic government was not being formed in the PA, but one that is the product of a political agreement between Fatah and Hamas to establish a national unity government in which there will be members from Hamas, Fatah, and other groups within Palestinian society. It will be necessary to assess this government’s platform and commitments.

Regarding the population of Sderot, Prime Minister Olmert stressed that he has always claimed that any local leadership must encourage and strengthen its residents and not just speak on their behalf, however stridently. He said: “I must say that last week I was impressed that Sderot Mayor Eli Moyal and other public leaders there have taken responsibility. I welcome this.”

Regarding the tragedy in Beit Hanoun, Prime Minister Olmert said, “I always say – whenever innocents are killed by our actions – that we see this as a failure. But the Palestinian terrorist organizations see it as policy. They fire Kassams solely in order to kill civilians.  Now, when I see the inflexibility of the international community, of those who preach morality at us, I say: Do not preach morality at us. Do not send commissions of inquiry. Do not investigate us. We will refuse the hypocritical and self-righteous game by those in the international community that try to compel us to act like we accept responsibility for war crimes. This will never happen. We will not cooperate with such an approach. 

Let this be clear. I do not think that we could agree to such an action or to any similar action. We give full backing to Chief of General Staff Halutz and to all of the security forces in their struggle against terrorism. You exemplify a moral army and we flatly reject any attempt to cast moral aspersions on the IDF.”

3. Pursuant to the 1959 Civil Service Law (Appointments), the cabinet approved the appointment of Rani Fintzi as director of the Interior Ministry Local Authorities Administration in place of Yitzhak Balak.

4. Pursuant to its authority under the 1977 Airports Authority Law, the cabinet approved the appointment of Ovadiah Eli as chairman of the Airports Authority Council.