(Communicated by the Cabinet Secretariat)

At the weekly cabinet meeting today (Sunday, 17 December 2006):

1. On behalf of the cabinet, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert wished the Jewish people a Happy Chanukah.

2. Prime Minister Olmert briefed ministers on his visits to Germany and Italy last week. In Germany, he met with Chancellor Angela Merkel and noted that, not only was she very interested in Israel, but she was also ready to contribute to its various diplomatic needs. They discussed the Syrian, Palestinian, and Iranian issues. On the Syrian issue, the Chancellor’s urgent position completely ruled out assisting Syria in the current situation. The German government’s position is that the Syrians are one of the two main sources of instability in the Middle East and that the possibility of bringing Syria to some kind of moderation on the issues that currently preoccupy the international community is very weak.

On the Palestinian issue, the international community appreciates Israel’s restraint.  It knows that Israel is pushing for negotiations with the Palestinians, is disturbed by the split in the Palestinian camp and by Hamas ’s extremism, which is leading in directions that will not enable serious negotiations. Prime Minister Olmert stressed that he had represented Israel ’s position on this issue, namely that if a Palestinian unity government is established and accepts the principles of the international community – those laid down by the Quartet and specified in the Roadmap – conditions will then be ready for negotiations with that government. In any case, there was great appreciation for the Israeli Government’s positions vis-a-vis the Palestinian Authority.

Prime Minister Olmert also discussed the Iranian issue during his meetings in Europe. He noted that there is a reasonable chance that the UN Security Council would in the coming days decide on sanctions against Iran. The prime minister added that last week’s Holocaust-denial conference in Iran had aroused sharp attention and opposition throughout Europe.

He also briefed ministers on his meeting with Pope Benedict XVI and noted that the Vatican had also sharply condemned the Teheran conference.

3. The cabinet was briefed on The Jewish People Policy Planning Institute’s 2006 Annual Assessment.

4. The cabinet discussed the idea of pumping water from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea, a project in the framework of the economic peace corridor, the objective of which is to turn Middle East border zones into areas of cooperation, economic development and prosperity, and stability. To this end, Israel, Jordan, and the Palestinian Authority have – with the assistance of the international community – decided to formulate the principles of this project. These principles determine – inter alia – that the corridor will encompass the entire Jordan Valley, from the Red Sea to the Yarmuk River.

Its goal is to increase the economic development and stability of this area regardless of the diplomatic negotiations. The economic peace corridor is composed of several economic projects, which have been invested in by the business sector, including both major projects (such as the water carrier, an Eilat-Aqaba joint airport, the development of joint copper mines, tourism enterprises, rail links, and a Palestinian industrial zone) and focused development in specific areas. A consultative committee will be established for the economic peace corridor. The parties will establish working committees and will pool their political, economic, and professional resources in order to advance the project and monitor its progress. The involvement of the business sector will be a guiding principle.

Regarding the water carrier, Prime Minister Olmert said that Vice Premier Shimon Peres would have overall responsibility and added that this would not detract from the authority of specific ministries regarding particular aspects of the project. Vice Premier Peres’s office would be responsible for inter-ministerial coordination.

5. Pursuant to its authority under Basic Law: The Government, the cabinet decided to transfer the Finance Minister’s authority – under the 1975 Government Companies Law – for the Local Authority Administration Automation Company, Ltd. to Minister Meshulam Nahari.

6. The cabinet discussed amendments to the Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law, decided to approve the draft law in principle and authorized the Ministerial Committee on Legislation and Law Enforcement to submit it to the Knesset.

7. The cabinet discussed several issues regarding water management. 

8. The cabinet discussed amendments to the Income Tax Law.