[Translated from Hebrew]
Good evening.

I came here this evening from the village of Maghar in the Galilee, where I shared in the joy of the Azzam Family on the return of Azzam Azzam from an Egyptian prison. I am certain that there is no one in Israel who has not been moved over the past two days at the sight of this family, whose dream – to have Azzam back home – has come true.

I believe that following this incident, we have the possibility to expand relations with Egypt in all spheres, something which would also definitely help Israel’s economy.

We are at the beginning of a new calendar year. 2005 holds great opportunities for the State of Israel, opportunities which we must not miss.

Several years ago, no one would even have considered that after 4 years of global economic crisis and a difficult security campaign – Israel would be able to maintain a 1% per annum inflation rate; that prices and exchange rates would maintain stability over time, and that there would be a growth rate of 4% per annum; that the United States would demonstrate trust in the Israeli economy by granting guarantees for the financial commitments of the Government; that the tax burden – direct and indirect – would decrease and many economic reforms which previous Governments simply discussed and did not dare to implement – would be implemented.

We implemented all these in the last year. The Government succeeded in combining a reliable and responsible economic policy while outlining a promising political horizon. We did it even under conditions of uncertainty, and this had a tremendous impact on both our international and our economic posture.

I am not counted among those who raised a voice in crying out to the heavens in light of the economic data relating to the second half of the year, just as I was not among those who were euphoric in light of the data relating to the first half.  Israel is on the right path. The Government has demonstrated, and will continue to demonstrate, determination in carrying out the economic steps decided upon and in implementing our international commitments. The Israeli economy and financial markets are demonstrating maturity in their reactions to the ups and downs in the political arena and have placed their trust in the economic leadership.

2005 can be a year in which we will reap, or begin to reap the fruits of the immense effort which we all invested over the last few years. It will be a year in which we begin to discuss a life free from the threat of terror with our Palestinian neighbors. It will be a year in which Israel will be able to restore its regional and international position. Yesterday’s event [the release of Azam Azam] is an example of that. A year in which there will be an increase in foreign investment in Israel, which is the third largest emergent economy in the world. A year in which the greater part of the Security Fence which protects us from the Palestinian terrorist organizations will be built. A year in which there will be an increased feeling of personal security, which will bring about a continuation in the growing trend of foreign tourism to Israel.  It will be a year of accelerated development of infrastructure: the commencement of activity in desalination facilities; a move to produce electricity with natural gas; more and more communities across Israel will be connected to the railway system, thereby bringing the periphery closer to the center. A year in which we will implement the Dovrat Report, which is the most comprehensive plan to improve the education system since the establishment of the state. A year in which not only the economy as a whole, but each individual, will begin to benefit from the results of the economic reforms we implemented. It will be a year of hope for every citizen of Israel.

It would be a terrible mistake on our part to miss the opportunities before us. We must stop engaging in petty quarrels and political and sectarian arguments and direct all our efforts towards our common goals. It would be the height of folly when, years later, we would ask ourselves: how did we not understand what we were doing?

If we have no choice, we will hold elections. Twice in the last four years we have had elections, I have run for election, and twice in the last four years we have won the unprecedented trust of the Israeli public. However, I think it would be a mistake to drag the Israeli public into an unnecessary election at this time. It is a mistake which will incur a heavy cost.

New elections will cost the Israeli economy very large sums of money – much more than any step taken to ensure the stability of the coalition. Any delay, any engagement in that which divides us rather than unites us – will prevent the Government from taking advantage of possible opportunities to advance the political process; will slow down the momentum which the economy is currently enjoying; will project instability vis-a-vis foreign investors and will delay essential decisions regarding the construction of the Security Fence.

Can anyone here imagine a Government implementing complex reforms such as the Dovrat Report during elections? Does anyone here understand the difficulty of developing infrastructures when ministers, rather than struggling against everyday bureaucracy, are occupied with an election campaign? Can anyone see the possibility of leaving Gaza, something which I feel is essential, during elections? Anyone see something like this? Or, a possibility such as this?

I intend to take advantage of the potential opportunities for the Israeli people in 2005. I will make every effort to realize them. Therefore, I will endeavor to broaden the coalition and establish a Government with the Labor Party and the religious parties. That is why I have asked to convene the Likud central committee, and to gain the support of the members of the committee in the necessary steps I am leading.

Only a stable government, which will rule until the end of 2006, can implement the Disengagement Plan, continue the economic reforms and extricate Israel from its social problems.

As the new year commences – Israel needs a stable, broad Government. Israel needs a coalition which will pass the budget in the Knesset, and allow for the implementation of the political and economic steps which the Government approved. Israel needs to focus on doing and developing and not on fighting and arguing.

I am certain that if we all work together, we will, in 2005, build a better future, a future of hope for us all.