At the weekly Cabinet meeting (Sunday), January 11, 2004:
1. Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz briefed ministers on current security matters. He referred to the security establishment's summary of 2003 and said that there had been an approximately 50% decline in the number of terrorist attacks and casualties in comparison with 2002. In his opinion, this decline stemmed from the security services' accelerated and efficient counter-terrorist operations, which are deserving of all praise, and the security fence, which is beginning to "pay for itself." However, the Defense Minister said that the current level cannot be accepted as satisfactory and added that he intends to make all necessary efforts in order to bring about an additional reduction in the scale of terrorism in 2004.
Defense Minister Mofaz discussed the current situation in the Palestinian sphere which is showing expressions of anarchy. Abu Ala's weak administration is controlled by Arafat and is thus finding it difficult to deal with the internal anarchy and has been unable to secure a commitment from the various terrorist organizations to halt terrorism. Hamas is strengthening in the Gaza Strip and there are continued high-profile attempted attacks and warnings of attacks inside Israel as well as in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip.
Defenser Minister Mofaz said that some elements in the Palestinian establishment are taking note of what appears to them as cracks in Israeli society's interal cohesiveness and strength and added that these impressions are leading to a hardening of positions and support for continued terrorism in the hope of expanding the aforementioned cracks in Israeli society. The main conclusions to be drawn are: Israel must continue its counter-terrorism efforts and move to operational activities in order to weaken Hamas; Israel must simultaneously maintain its readiness for a genuine dialogue with Abu Ala's government and uphold the roadmap to its fullest; and Israel must search for ways to ease restrictions on those sections of the Palestinian population which are not involved in terrorism. To this end, it has been agreed to take a series of steps to dismantle checkpoints and improve both personnel and infrastructure at permanent checkpoints, to expand hours of operation and improve procedures at crossings, to enhance cooperation with the international organizations operating on the ground, and to encourage local dialogue in order to achieve security calm and improve the situation of the population.
Defense Minister Mofaz also discussed the issue of Syria and its president's various declarations.
Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom briefed ministers on his just-concluded visit to Ethiopia. Ethiopian Foreign Minister Seyoum Mesfin was surprised at the great interest shown by the business community during the visit. Foreign Minister Shalom spoke about his diplomatic talks in Addis Ababa and referred to the Falash Mura issue, having visited Gondar where there are 14,000. Foreign Minister Shalom stressed that every effort must be made to honor the government's February 16, 2003 decision to bring the Falash Mura to Israel.
Foreign Minister Shalom also referred to the damaging reports in the Israeli media regarding Libya. He said that any report about any contacts whatsoever with an Arab country with which Israel does not have diplomatic relations harms Israel's chances of holding a dialogue not only with that country but deters other countries from holding contacts with us. Foreign Minister Shalom condemned such phenomena.
Foreign Minister Shalom also discussed issues relating to both Syria and Jordan.
2. The Cabinet discussed the issue of the number of permits to be issued to employ foreign workers in agriculture and construction in 2004 and decided to approve Industry, Trade and Employment Minister Ehud Olmert's proposal to set quotas of 26,000 for agriculture, 20,000 for construction and 2,000 for industry.
An interminsterial committee chaired by Minister Olmert and composed of Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Interior Minister Avraham Poraz, Agriculture and Rural Development Minister Yisrael Katz and Construction and Housing Minister Effie Eitam, will examine the issue.