(Communicated by the Cabinet Secretariat)

At the weekly Cabinet meeting on Sunday, 30 November 2008:

1. Prime Minister Olmert made the following remarks at the start of the meeting: "Last week was marked by one of the most serious terrorist attacks India has ever known, in Mumbai, the product of extremist Islam – brutal and unrestrained, which tries to sow death and destruction wherever it can. I was briefed throughout the incident by security and intelligence officials who were closely following events and who were in close touch with the Indian government. The picture became more and more chilling. In recent days, there has been proper and correct cooperation between us and the relevant Indian authorities. Naturally, we were especially interested in hearing what was going on at the Jewish institutions that were under attack by these extremist organizations.

There is no doubt that these attacks were designed to intentionally harm such Jewish institutions.  In the framework of our contacts with the Indian authorities, we made it clear that we would be happy to provide any and all information or specific assistance that we might be asked to give.  At no stage was it on the agenda that Israel should join the operation, or do things that were within the power of the Indian government and its strong and trained military to do alone.  I am very pleased at the cooperation and would like to take this opportunity to thank the Indian government for seeing fit to update us throughout the events. 

Last night, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan called me and conveyed his condolences over the harsh blow to both Jews and Jewish institutions, and I thanked him very much for his goodwill. We, the Government of Israel, naturally wish the Indians a quick recovery from the trauma connected to these events. On behalf of the Government of Israel, I would like to convey our condolences to the families of the victims, including those Jews and Israelis. The Government of Israel is doing, and will continue to do, everywhere, what needs to be done to protect Jewish institutions insofar as the matter depends on us and is possible, in the very special circumstances related to events of this kind. The pictures of the Jewish victims, especially the scenes of those who ran the Chabad House, wrapped in prayer shawls, even as their blood-covered son was miraculously saved from the inferno, are shocking and take us back to events that we pray never recur. But the hatred of Jews, the State of Israel and Jewish symbols are still a factor that spurs and encourages such murderous acts.  As I said, we will act in cooperation with the Government of India in order to protect – as much as possible – the many Israelis and Jews in these areas and who want, and are entitled, to enjoy complete security in their daily lives.

I would like to comment on the economic issue.  In recent days, the Finance Ministry has prepared a series of important and deserving measures to properly deal with the financial crisis that threatens the global economy and which is also liable to strike the Israeli economy.  These are in addition to the economic steps that the Finance Ministry has prepared in cooperation with the Bank of Israel, the National Economic Council and the Prime Minister’s Office.  An effort has been made in recent days to reach an understanding regarding the steps that will provide a response for the ordinary citizen, those who put their savings into pension and provident funds, lest they be hurt.  There are discussions to this effect among the Finance Ministry, the Bank of Israel and the National Economic Council.  I believe that we must reach as broad an agreement as possible so that these matters will be outside political argument. 

We are in a delicate elections period.  There is a natural tendency by various elements to use such potential crises for political purposes.  I appealed to the Opposition and received the cooperation of Leader of the Opposition MK Benjamin Netanyahu and, I believe, Meretz Chairman Haim Oron.  I also received the cooperation of coalition partners – Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Eli Yishai and the head of the Pensioners faction – so that it would be possible to reach agreement on responsible, measured and careful steps in order to assure pension fund savings.  I know that a Knesset Finance Committee discussion will be necessary.  I hope that additional discussions will be held today among Finance Ministry, Bank of Israel and Prime Minister’s Office representatives in order to formulate a proposal that will also be acceptable to other public elements.  I met last Friday with Histadrut Chairman Ofer Eini, Manufacturers Association President Shraga Brosh and the Director of the Coordinating Bureau of Economic Organizations in order to reach such an agreement.  I think that such an agreement is important.  Let nobody seek to make political capital here.  I will not allow this issue to become part of elections-eve political tension.  We must look out for the public, for the hundreds of thousands of savers, and we must see to it that they will not be hurt.  This issue requires maximum responsibility, free of sloganeering and power struggles, whether political or personal.  In this spirit, I hope that we will complete the work quickly and I thank all those involved for showing the requisite responsibility, cooperation and goodwill.  Thank you very much."

2. Prime Minister Olmert briefed the ministers on the meetings that he held last week with outgoing US President George Bush and senior administration officials.  The Prime Minister noted that the Americans feel that they are responsible for the security of Israel, for the continued existence of Israel’s strategic advantage over its enemies and for the continuation of strategic cooperation on various issues.  He added that the US administration is also committed to continuing the struggle against Iran with the objective of preventing it from achieving nuclear capability.

Prime Minister Olmert declared that in his meeting with President Bush, he made it clear that, until the new government takes office in Israel, the diplomatic negotiations would continue, and added that he hopes that the new government that will be established after the elections would also continue in this area. Prime Minister Olmert said that, in his meetings in the US, he sought to convey to the elements preparing the changeover to the new administration the importance of continuing the policies and messages of the outgoing administration.  The Prime Minister pointed out that the Foreign Ministry, the Defense Ministry and the Israeli Embassy in Washington are active in this regard.

Prime Minister Olmert also noted that he did not meet with President-elect Barack Obama and said that the latter has decided not to meet with foreign heads of state and government before taking office in early January. However, the Prime Minister added that in the telephone conversations that he held several weeks ago with the President-elect, the latter had made it clear to him that he intends to deal with Middle East affairs.

3. Social Welfare and Social Services Minister Yitzhak Herzog briefed the ministers on the 2007 Poverty and Social Gaps report.

4. The Government discussed the release of prisoners as a gesture for the upcoming Muslim Id al-Adha holiday and decided as follows:

A. On the occasion of Id al-Adha and as a gesture of goodwill to the head of the Palestinian Authority, to recommend that the authorized bodies release approximately 250 Palestinian prisoners and detainees, as per the criteria decided upon by the Government in its 6 July 2003 and 13 February 2005 decisions, and in humanitarian cases with special medical circumstances.
B. The Ministerial Committee on the Release of Palestinian Prisoners will discuss their release date in accordance with prevailing circumstances and taking into account the upholding of Palestinian commitments, all according to the criteria approved by the Attorney General.  The Committee will approve the list of prisoners.
C. The Committee will be able to make exceptions to the criteria regarding the proportion of time served and remaining detention time.
D. Coordination of activity ahead of the releases and the formulation of the list of prisoners who meet the criteria for release will be carried out by a committee chaired by the Justice Ministry Director-General, in which all relevant authorities will take part.  The committee will submit its recommendations and conclusions to the aforesaid Ministerial Committee, which will be authorized to approve them on behalf of the Government.

5. Agriculture and Rural Development Minister Shalom Simhon and Religious Services Minister Yitzhak Cohen briefed the Cabinet on their ministries’ activities during the recent sabbatical (Shmita) year. 

6. The Cabinet discussed the issue of assistance to the Sapir Regional Council regarding a wastewater purification facility at Ein Tzurim.

7. The Cabinet discussed the administrative status of the Religious Services Ministry.

8. Communications Minister Ariel Atias discussed the recent assault on Keshet Director-General Avi Nir.  Prime Minister Olmert condemned the assault.