(Communicated by the Cabinet Secretariat)

At the 31st government’s first weekly cabinet meeting today (Sunday, 7 May 2006):

1. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert made the following remarks:

"I want to welcome all of the ministers and wish that the government serve a long time, as determined by law, and meet all of the tasks that it has set for itself and regarding which it received the confidence of the Knesset. I especially want to welcome the new ministers, for whom this is their first cabinet meeting. I very much hope that after the first wave of excitement, that we will all get down to business. Cabinet meetings entail working and making decisions in order to carry out the tasks that each one of us is responsible for in the framework of his or her ministry. I welcome you all and wish you all success.

"I would like to take this opportunity to point out that no government could expect a more encouraging welcome than that which we received on our first day in office last Friday, when in distant Nebraska, a gigantic deal was reached in which global tycoon Warren Buffett announced that he was acquiring from the Wertheimer family an 80% stake in ISCAR. 

"This is not just another deal for the Israeli economy, this is one of the biggest investors in the world, who has never invested outside the US before. He represents tens of thousands of investors whose investments depend on his decisions. His decision to invest in an Israeli company, in a country that he has never visited or seen its factories, solely on the basis of its record and on professional opinions attests – first and foremost – to great confidence in the Israeli economy and in full trust both in its stability and in its great potential. 

"When a man like Warren Buffett says, to the 25,000 important economists and businesspeople who have come to listen to him, that he believes in the Israeli economy, this is a signal to tens of thousands of investors from around the world to do what is good for them. What is good for $4 billion of Warren Buffett’s money is also good for very many other investors and we can only rejoice. 

"I would like to take this opportunity to commend the Wertheimer family: There are none like you – fair, patriotic, lovers and builders of this country, developers of the Galilee and the Negev, and I am convinced that the great compensation you are receiving following the sale will be a lever for further development in the same pioneering Zionist spirit that has always characterized this country."

2. Defense Minister Amir Peretz briefed ministers on current security matters. He noted the evacuation of Beit Shapira in Hebron was completed a short while ago. During the evacuation, 14 members of the Border Police, the Israel Police and the IDF were injured. Most were injured in attempts to prevent security forces from reaching the house. As of now, six settlers have been arrested for involvement in disturbances at the site. Nine of the injured have already been released from hospital. Before the actual evacuation, there was a night of disturbances by residents in an attempt to prevent the evacuation, this in continuation of both the disturbances that occurred last Thursday in which several police personnel were injured, and the violent confrontations over the weekend between police personnel and settlers. The defense minister noted that last Friday the High Court of Justice had – at the request of the security establishment – extended the date of the evacuation in order to prevent the desecration of the Sabbath.

Regarding the events in Hebron, Prime Minister Olmert made it clear that he had instructed Defense Minister Peretz to evacuate the squatters from Beit Shapira: "We have reiterated that we will not countenance the illegal determination of facts and violations of the law anywhere, certainly not in these sensitive areas, and certainly not in a place that was evacuated by agreement two months ago. I want it to be clear – this evacuation has no bearing on government policy regarding the territories. Wherever the law is violated, wherever there is illegal squatting and wherever there are attempts to determine these kinds of facts, we will respond immediately, without compromise."

Defense Minister Peretz added: "According to the police commander on the scene, as soon as they were inside the house itself, three Hebron Jewish community leaders accompanied them and very much helped them to carry out the evacuation quietly and without injuring any of the residents, heaven forbid. I say this positively because this was the only point of light when one considers what happened from the side of the community itself."

Peretz said that as of this morning a gradual lifting of the closure that had been imposed on Judea and Samaria approximately two months ago, following an increase in the number of warnings, had begun. According to the recommendation of security officials, the defense minister approved the gradual entry into Israel of 8,000 workers from Judea and Samaria (not including northern Samaria) aged 35 and over, the entry of workers from Judea and Samaria to the Atarot industrial zone (married and aged 28 and over), and the entry of 4,000 merchants from Judea and Samaria. These approvals come against the background of the desire to enable the Palestinian population to have a respectable daily routine alongside the need to deal with terrorist attack warnings and prevent Israeli citizens from being harmed.

Following an increase in Kassam rocket fire over the weekend, last Friday afternoon Defense Minister Peretz authorized an attack on a Popular Resistance Committees target in Gaza. The target was attacked by the air force Friday afternoon; this action was accompanied by the distribution of leaflets to the Palestinian population that emphasized that continued quiet would prevent aggressive activity by Israel. However, as long as the rocket fire continues, Israel will continue to defend the lives of its residents.

3. Pursuant to Article 31f of Basic Law: The Government, the cabinet approved regulations setting its work and debate procedures, and decision-making processes.

4. The cabinet re-approved the 2006 state budget and the concomitant Economic Arrangements Law and decided to table them in the Knesset forthwith.

5. Pursuant to Article 31 of Basic Law: The Government, the cabinet transferred the Israel Lands Administration from the Industry, Trade, and Labor Ministry to the Construction and Housing Ministry. The Knesset shall be duly notified.

6. Pursuant to Article 1 of the 1965 Broadcasting Authority Law, the cabinet authorized Minister Eitan Cabel to be responsible for implementation of the aforesaid law.

7. Pursuant to the 1959 Civil Service Law (Appointments), the cabinet appointed Ra’anan Dinur as Prime Minister’s Office director-general, instead of Ilan Cohen, effective 15 May 2006.

8.  Pursuant to the 1959 Civil Service Law (Appointments), the cabinet appointed Aryeh Bar as Construction and Housing Ministry director-general (instead of Shmuel Abuav).

9. The cabinet discussed a three-year development plan for the Halutz Dunes communities and decided – in continuation of both its previous decisions and the work of the designated interministerial committee – to work towards the establishment of the communities, as per the first stage of the aforesaid plan (the Halutzit 1 and Halutzit 4 communities), which also involves permanent housing for Gush Katif evacuees (188 families in the first stage). The projected cost for the 2006-2008 plan is NIS 159.2 million.

10. The cabinet decided to establish a team to prepare a development plan for the eastern Lachish district and instructed a team of directors-general to prepare a three-year plan for the establishment of residential areas in the district that would include the expansion of the existing communities of Amatzia, Shomriya, and Shekef. The plan will incorporate budgeting, timetables, project management and implementation, and the responsibilities of the various ministries.

This decision is in continuation of government policy that views as necessary the strengthening of communities in the eastern Lachish district and in the strategic buffering of the "Hebron Hills envelope."

Amatzia, Shomriya, and Shekef have absorbed residents from Atzmona, Katif, and Neveh Dekalim, who have asked to live permanently in these communities in order to continue dealing in agriculture, tourism, and other sectors.

11. Pursuant to Article 31 of Basic Law: The Government , the cabinet decided to reallocate various areas of responsibility so as to establish the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Science, Technology, Culture and Sports. The Knesset will be duly notified.

12. The cabinet decided to add the community of Yesodot to the list of communities that will receive government assistance in constructing permanent housing for residents of Gush Katif and northern Samaria. The development budget will be activated after the signing of an agreement pursuant to Article 85 of the 2005 Disengagement Implementation Law.

The cabinet also decided to allocate NIS 70 million to the Construction and Housing Ministry for the concomitant planning needs at Yesodot; the planning will begin once 40 families have committed to permanent housing at Yesodot. Forty families from Netzer Hazani have expressed interest in residing at Yesodot, part of the Nahal Sorek Regional Council, which has absorbed more than 300 families from Gush Katif.

13. The cabinet decided to change the name of the Negev and Galilee Development Ministry to the Vice Premier’s Office.