Netanyahu’s 1st Cabinet Session: Cancels Olmert $160M Decision

Netanyahu announced several decisions to be made at his first gov't meeting, including the nixing of Olmert's plan to refurbish the PM's residence.

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Hillel Fendel,

Prime Minister B. Netanyahu
Prime Minister B. Netanyahu

Israel’s largest government, comprised of 30 cabinet members, held its first session Sunday morning. “I want to emphasize three things,” said Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in the traditional meeting-opening remarks which are open to reporters, “Responsibility, unity, and work."

"This government is a true unity government," Netanyahu said. "It was established out of a sense of heavy responsibility and because of the urgent need to deal with the security, social and economic issues that face the State of Israel. We are therefore getting right to work.”

Netanyahu said he would nullify one of the last decisions of the outgoing government, headed by Ehud Olmert of Kadima, namely, a plan to refurbish the Prime Minister’s residence in Jerusalem to the tune of 650 million shekels (nearly $160 million). He said his government would formulate a new, more modest proposal.

In addition, the Cabinet will vote to set a national budget every two years, instead of annually, thus reducing the costs, political pressures, and uncertainties the country generally undergoes every year at budget-setting time. 

Uzi Arad: Opposed the Disengagement
The Cabinet will also appoint Dr. Uzi Arad as head of the National Security Council. Prof. Arad is a former Director of Intelligence for the Mossad, a professor at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, and head of the Institute for Policy and Strategy. The United States recently decided that it would grant a visa to Arad when he needs to meet with top officials in the U.S., after nearly two years of denying him one on suspicion that he was an “intelligence risk."

“To speak of dividing Jerusalem as a solution for something is simply pathetic,” Arad recently told the Jerusalem Conference. “The idea of splitting Jerusalem doesn’t come near the special historic and other significance that this city holds! It is a failure of imagination of incredible proportions. It is totally unthinkable to consider dividing Jerusalem merely to solve some tactical problems… Even from a practical standpoint, it simply cannot work. It would cause more problems than it would solve.”

First Aid for Needy Families
The Cabinet will also make several decisions on economic matters, Netanyahu said, “in order to advance solutions to the economic crisis.” He promised “first aid” for needy families for the upcoming Passover holiday, via various charity organizations.

Netanyahu said he would appoint in the coming days a “head for the health network, so that there will be a clear address for this important system.” He said this following a media clamor for the appointment of a Minister of Health. 

Another important issue on Sunday's agenda is the government’s mini-security cabinet.  By law it must have at least five ministers, in addition to the Prime Minister: Ministers of Defense Barak, Foreign Affairs Lieberman, Finance Steinitz, Justice Ne’eman and Public Security Aharonovitch. In addition, Netanyahu has apparently promised six other ministers a place on the prestigious body: Begin, Yaalon, Meridor, Shalom, Ben-Eliezer and Yishai.