The French proposal to convene an international conference is an incentive for the Palestinians to come and not compromise. The substance of negotiations is compromise and the French initiative in effect gives the Palestinians reasons not to do so.
(Communicated by the Prime Minister’s Media Advisor)
At the weekly Cabinet meeting today (Sunday, 31 January 2016):
1. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made the following remarks:
"Right now is not the time to take leave of two dear people who contributed greatly to the state and to thank them on behalf of all citizens of the state. I mean Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein, who is concluding his term tomorrow, and, of course, Cabinet Secretary Yehuda Mandelblit, who is taking up this important office. But on behalf of all ministers, I can say right now that we are very grateful to both of you and, of course, wish you great success in the future. I will have the opportunity to say more on the matter, and we will hold special ceremonies in my office.
Regarding the Cabinet Secretary, I will say that last year he acted at my behest, and in cooperation with Natan Sharansky, to try and reach a solution on the question of the Women of the Wall. Today, in your last meeting here, we will submit the summary of your work on the issue, i.e. a compromise on this delicate issue in a place that is supposed to unite the Jewish People. While I know that this is a delicate issue, I think that this is a fair and creative solution. The most complex problems usually require such solutions and I congratulate you on what you have submitted for a decision by the Cabinet.
We will also submit something else. When I served as finance minister, I was shocked by the lag in the government’s payments to suppliers. The government, which needs to set an example for the entire economy, has lagged in its payments to various suppliers. We have taken steps to close the gap so that within 30 days we will pay what the government owes. Economy Minister Aryeh Deri has come forth with a welcome initiative to go back and reduce this gap and emphasize the government’s necessary leadership in setting an example. I thank him for this effort. I am Economy Minister today, for a little while yet, and therefore I am enthusiastically adopting this issue. Of course, the Finance Minister supports it. Therefore, today we will submit the decision that will lead to Government payments being made within 30 days and those of local authorities within 45 days.
At the same time, you certainly heard of the proposal being raised in certain quarters in France, to convene an international conference with the threat at the end that if it is unsuccessful, then France will – to a large degree – adopt the Palestinian position. This will be an incentive for the Palestinians to come and not compromise. The substance of negotiations is compromise and the French initiative, as it has been reported, in effect gives the Palestinians in advance reasons not to do so. I believe that we will see a sobering up on this issue. In any case, we will work to bring this about and our position is very clear: We are prepared to enter into direct negotiations without preconditions and without dictated conditions."
2. OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurria attended today’s Cabinet meeting.
Prime Minister Netanyahu:
"The OECD is composed of the world’s leading economies and it sets important standards for the proper and advanced operations of modern economies. We have made contact with the head of the OECD, Angel Gurria, who is a faithful friend of the State of Israel and of advanced economies. I think that one of the blessings is the link with Angel, with the fact that he is a consummate professional and a man without bias from whom it is possible to learn very much, and from an organization from which it is possible to learn very much. Therefore, today we are marking five years of productive cooperation with the OECD http://www.oecd.org/israel/.
This report http://www.oecd.org/israel/economic-survey-israel.htm positively notes Israel’s economic strength, the high growth, the low unemployment and the budgetary responsibility that we are – of course – proud of. However, it also indicates major disparities, disparities between population groups, mainly among the ultra-orthodox public and Israel’s Arab citizens, and, to be more precise, ultra-orthodox men and Arab women who must be brought into the labor market, increased productivity, the severe problems we have in overregulation and, of course, excessive bureaucracy. The State of Israel, sadly, stands out vis-à-vis the severe problems that we have in these areas, and the government must deal with this.
The OECD is also quite positive regarding the gas outline. This issue, of course, is current. We also discussed it at the special summit we had last week with the leaders of Greece and Cyprus http://mfa.gov.il/MFA/PressRoom/2016/Pages/Trilateral-meeting-between-Israel-Greece-and-Cyprus-28-Jan-2016.aspx . This is an important part of the State of Israel’s diplomatic and economic axis; the State of Israel is ensured of the supply of inexpensive energy in the coming decades.
Angel, I just summarized your summary, but you are free to elaborate on this. I think the relationship between us has been especially productive, both personally, but also for us on a national level. It’s very important for us to see best practices. I agree with just about everything that you say, except one thing: I believe that part of our growth has resulted from lower taxation and lower tax rates. And I think our tax rates are not too low. I think they’re not low enough and to the extent that we can lower them further, we shall lower them further. This is the one point of disagreement I have with you. Other things we agree. We cannot agree on everything otherwise they’ll accuse us of group-thinking. But it’s a special pleasure to welcome you here."
OECD Secretary General Gurria thanked Prime Minister Netanyahu and briefed ministers on the Israeli economy in 2015. He noted – inter alia – that the relatively good state of the Israeli economy was found expression in low unemployment, stable prices, a decline in the national debt and banking stability. He noted that the gas outline that was approved by the Cabinet is proper and added that it could serve as an engine for increased competition. He emphasized that the importance of implementing reforms to increase growth and advance citizens’ welfare. In referring to the five-year plan on assistance to Israel’s Arab citizens, which was approved by the Cabinet on 30 December 2015 http://www.pmo.gov.il/English/MediaCenter/Spokesman/Pages/spokeEco301215.aspx , OECD Secy.-Gen. Gurria pointed out that there still major gaps between the Arab population and the ultra-orthodox community, and the other citizens of the country. In closing, he said that the OECD expects Israel to advance to being among the organization’s leading member states.
Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon said that the government was indeed dealing with all of the problems that OECD Secy.-Gen. Gurria referred to including housing, assistance to the needy and the elderly, competition among banks and financial stability, the ultra-orthodox sector and the Arab sector.
3. The Cabinet decided to appoint a ministerial committee on settlement issues in national priority areas, the area adjacent to the Gaza Strip and the periphery, to be chaired by Prime Minister Netanyahu.
4. The Cabinet discussed, and decided to implement, the recommendations of the advisory committee on prayer arrangements at the Western Wall.
5. The Cabinet approved raft legislation on regarding payment to government suppliers.
6. The Cabinet took its leave from outgoing Attorney General Weinstein and Cabinet Secretary Mandelblit. Prime Minister Netanyahu and the other ministers commended their work and wished them well in the future.