Election talk truncates cabinet meeting

With new Labor chairman Amir Peretz talking about pulling his party out of the government and new elections hanging heavy in the air, the cabinet met Sunday for only 15 minutes. One minister was quoted as saying he felt this was "like the last class before summer vacation." Vice Premier Shimon Peres, defeated by Peretz and apparently alluding to the need now to quit the government, reportedly quipped at the end of the meeting, "It's tough to get out of the chairs." The Prime Minister's Office issued a statement saying that no weekly security briefings were scheduled, and that the only central issue on the agenda - giving preferential conditions to demobilized soldiers working in security jobs for public institutions - was pushed off for two weeks. The ministers did manage to approve the upcoming trip of President Moshe Katsav to Italy and the Vatican, and Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom's and Communications Minister Dalia Itzik's trip on Tuesday to Tunisia to take part in the World Summit on Information Society. Prior to the meeting, Sharon met briefly with Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni to discuss dismantling the Amona outpost near Ofra. The meeting came on the day that US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was to arrive in the country for a 24-hour visit. Israel has repeatedly given commitments to the US that it would dismantle the illegal settlement outposts. In August, the state promised the High Court of Justice that, after disengagement, it would dismantle nine permanent dwellings built at Amona. The court became involved in the issue following a petition on behalf of Peace Now calling on the state to demolish the structures. Meanwhile, atop the hill where Amona sits, residents attended at a community meeting Sunday night to discuss their future. The situation has representatives of the small community in an emotional state. Community spokeswoman Orit Caspi was left speechless, while Itzik Meyer, head Ofra of the Local Council of, blasted the decision to dismantle Amona. "The fate of Amona," he said, "is the fate of Ofra." He noted angrily that "the destroyer [Sharon] is now trying for the first time to destroy permanent housing in this area." He explained that Amona, like many outposts, "grew nearby the parent settlements, and were populated by the younger generation." Amona was established about eight years ago, Meyer said, with the tacit permission of the Barak administration and the overt approval of security officials. But there is a loophole. Mofaz responded to the High Court order by saying he would demolish the settlement only as long as the security situation in the West Bank permitted it. The likelihood of that was small though, as a Defense Ministry source noted that would only happen "if a problematic security situation arises in the area."