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'I want to thank you for being here with us for this Jubilee Economic Conference. In the life of a nation, half a century is not a long time. And, in the 4,000 years of Jewish history, this time frame seems even shorter. But I don't believe I would be exaggerating if I say that in the life of the Jewish people it is difficult to find a period of greater significance and more impressive achievements than the first 50 years of the reborn state of Israel. When we review these 50 years, we usually think first of our wars of survival. We were attacked even before the state was officially born, and the attack was meant not merely to defeat us but to destroy us. We survived those attacks, and all the attacks that followed, whether by armies or terrorists. The odds were impossible, but our spirit was indomitable.

During this half-century we brought millions of immigrants from all over the world, most of them penniless, and integrated them into our society. In relation to, it was the largest number of immigrants ever absorbed by any country. And throughout the period, we also managed to make extraordinary contributions in the spheres of agriculture, science, medicine, literature and the arts.

This week we proved in Moscow that we are a superpower even in chess. Only Russia and the U.S. are ahead of us. It is not commonly known that after Moscow, the city with the largest number of chess grandmasters is Be'er Sheva, the capital of the Negev. But all these achievements will not be enough if we do not make our economy one of the foremost economies in the world. I am convinced that we are well on the way to achieving this, too. And we are determined to make this achievement overshadow every other.

The Israeli Economy has been undergoing a structural transformation. In the past it was notoriously centralised, with massive government involvement at every turn. Today, the economy is open, advanced and liberal. It is an economy which has successfully integrated into the economies of the Western world. We are not only a chess superpower, we are a superpower in the sphere of knowledge industries, of high technology; the sphere of the future. In the past we were known for Jaffa Oranges. Today we are famous for our high-tech start-ups. Except for the U.S., Israel boasts the highest number of start-ups in absolute terms.

We have had 3000 start-ups here, more than the UK, or Germany or Japan or China. And don't forget - our whole population is the size of Chicago. This is a direct result of the kind of manpower we have in this country. We have more engineers, more technologists and more scientists per capita than virtually any other country. We are leaders in electronics, communications,bio-chemistry, agrochemistry, argiculture and computer sciences.

This does not mean that we can relax, and rest on our laurels. To cope with the fierce competition in today's world we must continue to liberalise, deregulate and privatise. We must make the attractiveness of investing in our country second to none. We know this and we are determined to continue until our economy becomes a model of innovation, imagination and entrepreneurship.

Our economic Policy combines free market principles with concern for the underprivileged. It is a policy which has reaped unlimited praise from the International Monetary Fund, and from the investment consultants and experts everywhere.

In the global economic storm we have remained an island of stability. We have felt few tremors, but the soundness of our economy has proved itself. What made it so was our policy of full transparency, accountability and financial integrity.

Inflation used to be the endemic disease of the Israeli Economy. It is now at its lowest levels in 30 years, and I am convinced that within the next 2 years we will bring it permanently, to American and European levels.

The scope of Foreign Investments has reached record dimensions. In 1997 it constituted 4% of GDP. Israel has become a land of unequalled business opportunities. In the framework of this conference, leaders of the business sector and the economic ministries will describe the tremendous potential for collaboration between Israel and the international high-tech companies, both in national and regional projects. Israel attaches great importance to the development of the whole region.

In the 50 years since the establishment of the state of Israel, the wars waged against the state have brought untold suffering not only to us but to the Palestinian people and to the Arab nations. An Arab willingness to compromise 50 years ago could have prevented all this suffering. This region could have become a model of co-operation and prosperity, the model envisioned by the founders of Zionism. Now we have another opportunity.

Let us work together so that this region, which gave the world its three great monotheistic religions, will also give it hope of permanent peace, stability, prosperity and brotherhood.


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