PM talks peace in 1st cabinet meeting

Netanyahu says he'll rescind former gov't's NIS 650m PMO plan, appoint "head" of health establishment.

Netanyahu cabinet meeting 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
Netanyahu cabinet meeting 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu kicked off his first cabinet meeting Sunday morning, emphasizing a policy of advancing peace and security and stressing that his new government would be characterized by "unity, responsibility and hard work." "My ministers and I have a great responsibility, and today we are pulling up our sleeves and getting straight to work," he said at the start of the meeting. "This government is a genuine unity government," continued the prime minister. "It was set up out of a sense of heavy responsibility to deal urgently with the security, economic and social challenges that lie ahead." "We will establish a diplomatic-security cabinet, and in the coming weeks we will finalize our policy to advance peace and security," the new prime minister added. Amid the uproar over the lack of a full-fledged health minister, Netanyahuhe vowed to appoint "someone to head the health system." In addition, the new prime minister pledged to help the poor. "Today, we will provide first-aid to needy families for Passover," he said. "I will work with Welfare and Social Services Minister Isaac Herzog and Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz in order to resolve the problem of nutritional security." Netanyahu also stated that he would rescind a measure passed by former prime minister Ehud Olmert's government - the NIS 650 million construction of a new prime minister's office and residence, saying that the cabinet would examine a "more modest" option. Excavation work has already begun at the 11,000 sq.m. Ben-Gurion government complex in Jerusalem. In one of the Olmert cabinet's last meetings in February, the plan for the complex - slated to include the prime minister's official residence, offices and conference rooms - was approved. But the decision was slammed by then-opposition leader Netanyahu as a waste of taxpayers' money. Ministers were also asked to ratify a package of electoral and governmental reforms aimed at reducing the number of parties in future Knessets and making it more difficult to bring down a government. The ministers were asked to approve introducing legislation that would raise the threshold of votes needed to receive Knesset representation from the current 2 percent of votes cast. The number of MKs needed to dissolve the House would be raised to 80, and a no-confidence motion would only be allowed to pass if there were an alternative government with majority support. An additional proposal ministers are being asked to approve would require the support of 60 MKs for any bill that costs more than NIS 10 million. Sunday's cabinet meeting also approved the appointment of Dr. Uzi Arad as the new head of the National Security Council. Arad is the founding director of the Institute for Policy and Strategy at the Interdisciplinary Center, Herzliya, and he has chaired the annual Herzliya Conference, Israel's principal international policy conference. Between 1997 and 1999, during Netanyahu's first term as prime minister, Arad served as his foreign policy adviser. For the past two years Arad, a former Mossad director, has been denied entry into the United States based on a 2004 meeting he held with Pentagon official Larry Franklin, who has since been sentenced to 12 years in prison for passing classified information to Israel. Meanwhile, Netanyahu has yet to respond to last week's comments by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman declaring that Israel is no longer committed to the Annapolis diplomatic process. Over the weekend, foreign leaders urged Israel to continue peace efforts with the Palestinians. German Chancellor Angela Merkel phoned Netanyahu and urged him to support the peace process, but underlined Germany's commitment to strong relations with Israel. According to the chancellor's spokesman Thomas Steg, Merkel stressed Germany's hope that the new government would continue to support international efforts and agreements aimed at arriving at a two-state solution. Steg said the Netanyahu accepted an invitation to visit Berlin, but no date had been set. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown also phoned Netanyahu, urging him to "engage constructively" to seek a two-state solution. On Thursday, the US State Department spokesman announced that the US special envoy to the Middle East, former Sen. George Mitchell, was set to visit the region soon, now that the new government was formed. Details are still being worked out and no date has been set. The spokesman added that US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had phoned Lieberman to congratulate him on his new job, although the two had still not decided when to meet.