(Communicated by the Cabinet Secretariat)

At the weekly Cabinet meeting today (Sunday), 26 February 2006:

1. Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said: "Today is Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s birthday. We all pray for him and wish him a quick recovery."

2. Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz briefed ministers on current security matters, with the focus of the past week’s developments were:

  • Additional achievements in the security establishment’s counter-terrorism efforts, both regarding attempts to infiltrate into Israel from the Gaza Strip and attempts to launch rockets and plant bombs;
  • Abu Mazen’s giving a mandate to Ismail Haniye and the acceleration of attempts to form a Hamas government; Hamas’s efforts to bring Fatah into the new government; the effort to raise funds in the Islamic world and obtain legitimacy from the international community. At the same time, Abu Mazen worked to strengthen his authority, resulting in a dual leadership.
  • Defense Minister Mofaz referred to the deadlock in the international community’s contacts with Iran on the nuclear issue and Iran’s continued defiance of international pressure, including threats to respond to any attack.
  • Defense Minister Mofaz discussed the situation in Lebanon, his meeting this morning with US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs C. David Welch, and Egyptian and Jordanian policy vis-a-vis Hamas.

3. The Cabinet discussed the recommendations of the committee that examined the issue of shortening compulsory IDF service. The Cabinet decided:

  • To adopt the principles of the report regarding the shortening of continuing compulsory service and the compensation for soldiers whose service is to be shortened, as detailed in the report;
  • To supplement the IDF budget in order to implement the foregoing;
  • The Cabinet decided to instruct Defense Minister Mofaz, in coordination with the Justice Ministry, to draft legislation to implement the recommendations regarding the shortening of compulsory service and the compensation to be rendered.

Acting Prime Minister Olmert said that the State of Israel is strong and can allow itself to find a new and correct balance between compulsory IDF service and its value to the nation, and the fact that we are releasing a year earlier, over time, the most vital personnel, and are allowing it to begin studies earlier and contribute to the nation in a civilian capacity.

"It seems to me that this balance of two years’ compulsory service is the balance that the State of Israel can deal with and it is good that it does so."  Acting Prime Minister Olmert referred to the hesder yeshivas and the haredi Nahal units: "My personal opinion is that this is a very sensitive and important issue. I will express my personal opinion if I may – the hesder yeshivas are a national asset that I would be very hesitant to change, by the way. They have personnel that, for the most part, is outstanding; they volunteers, they are very dedicated and very motivated. These are frameworks whose services we would like to keep on enjoying without, at this time, getting into discussions and issues that could influence our internal stability. I do not want, at the moment, to decide. I am only saying that my personal opinion is that the hesder yeshivas are a national asset that has historic achievements in various areas of our lives."

Regarding the haredi Nahal units, Acting Prime Minister Olmert said: "We are looking for a way to change the patterns of life for a certain segment of our population and if it really becomes clear that the haredi Nahal units can serve as a platform for some sort of bridge to a population that has not served in the IDF and could possibly lead them to military service, and thus make things easier for us in other contexts, I wouldn’t make light of this either."

4. The Cabinet discussed the establishment of a directors-general team to formulate a multi-year plan on establishing the "Halutza Dunes" settlement area. The Cabinet instructed the team to formulate a multi-year coordinated working plan on establishing a settlement area in the Halutz Dunes, including the communities of Halutzit 1, Halutzit 4 and Be’er Milka. The plan will refer to budgeting, timetables, project management, project implementation, and coordination with the relevant government ministries. Prime Minister’s Office Director-General Ilan Cohen will chair the committee; other members will include – inter alia – the directors-general (or their representatives) of the Negev and Galilee Development and the Construction and Housing ministries, and the Director of the Finance Ministry Budget Division (or his representative). The team will coordinate with the directors-general of the relevant ministries and will submit the plan to the Cabinet within 30 days.

This decision is in continuation of Israeli government policy to strengthen settlement in the Negev.

The communities of Atzmona and Netzarim see the planned communities of Halutzit 1 and Halutzit 4 as their permanent communities in which they may develop agriculture, desert tourism and other sectors.

5. The Cabinet discussed the funding of rescue units in outlying areas.

6. The Cabinet discussed certain publicly funded bodies that are turned into private companies.

7. Health Minister Yaakov Edery, Agriculture and Rural Development Minister Ze’ev Boim and other senior officials briefed ministers on preparations regarding bird flu.

8. The Cabinet appointed National Infrastructures Minister Ronni Bar-On to chair the Ministerial State Comptroller’s Committee.