(Communicated by the Cabinet Secretariat)

At the weekly Cabinet meeting on Sunday, 25 May 2008:

1.  Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and ISA Director Yuval Diskin briefed ministers on diplomatic and security matters. The former discussed the resumption of contacts between Israel and Syria on the basis of the 1991 Madrid Conference. The latter reviewed the situation in Gaza, including the sides’ positions on the contacts between Hamas and Egypt, and the issue of a period of calm. The ISA Director also discussed activity by Hamas and the other terrorist organizations, the humanitarian situation of the civilian population in Gaza and the terrorist organizations’ attempts to perpetrate kidnappings.

On the diplomatic issue, Prime Minister Olmert said: "Last Wednesday, 21 May 2008, a statement was released simultaneously in Damascus, Ankara and Jerusalem about the opening of negotiations for a comprehensive peace between Israel and Syria, under Turkish auspices. The statement referred to a process that began in February 2007 and developed cautiously and gradually, conducted and guided by myself and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, and with the knowledge of Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, and reached last week’s simultaneous announcement. 

Since the announcement, there has been much speculation and commentary. I want to say here and now that we have no intention of conducting these negotiations in the media, nor in daily statements, nor in slogans. Rather, we will conduct serious and responsible negotiations, with all due caution. Israel has experience in negotiating with the Syrian government. In the past, the public knew that negotiations were being held but the sensitive details and intricacies were naturally kept confidential to facilitate the conducting of the negotiations. I can say that we are taking these negotiations seriously. There has been, and will be, very precise and detailed preparations, which are appropriate for the expectations we have of these negotiations, given the current reality, which is different from that of nine or ten years ago, and given the security and diplomatic sensitivities that stem from that reality.

There will be a steering committee, composed of all the relevant bodies, for the conduct of the negotiations. Also in the negotiations that we are holding with the Palestinians, all bodies are involved in every detail. However, this is not to say that these details must be exposed in the headlines on a daily basis. I think that this would be an incorrect procedure and we must be very careful lest this enthusiasm impair our ability to reach significant results on the most fateful questions regarding the future existence of the State of Israel. Naturally, at the beginning of our meeting, I will deliver the necessary details on the development of the issue, and the Cabinet will receive reports as necessary during the process, at all relevant intervals."

2. Social Welfare and Social Services Minister Yitzhak Herzog and his ministry Director-General briefed ministers on the various services provided by the ministry. Prime Minister Olmert noted, "As is known, the current Government has invested unprecedented amounts in rehabilitating the social welfare services and care for weaker strata, and has even made achievements in blocking the increase in the number of poor people in Israel. This Government’s policy is a compassionate economy. We will not be content with preventing the increase in poverty but intend to begin reducing the number of poor families and see to it that economic growth reaches the weaker strata."

3. Pursuant to Article 23 of the 1959 Civil Service Law (Appointments), the Cabinet made the following appointments:

* Assaf Whitman will replace Ron Dermer as Economic Attaché in Washington, DC;
* Yehuda Nasardishi will serve as Director of the Tax Authority;
* Dr. Reuven Gal will serve as Director of the Prime Minister’s Office Civilian and National Service Authority.