The title of your conference is “Decisions Can Change the Course of History.” As one who witnessed the decision making during several significant events in our short history, I would like to tell you that it is true.

(Translated from Hebrew)

Good morning,

The title of your conference is “Decisions Can Change the Course of History.” As one who witnessed the decision making during several significant events in our short history, I would like to tell you that it is true. We could discuss this topic of decision making – it is very interesting. However, we will need a different conference for that.

There are two kinds of executives, two kinds of leaders. There are those who seek to preserve the existing situation, make minor decisions and tread the path which is already paved. In many cases, this is what an organization needs.

And there is, of course, the other kind. There are situations in which our basic assumptions should be questioned, and one needs to be bold and make decisions which completely change the face of the organization. It is not easy – many people are used to the existing situation, even when it is problematic, and they fear change. It takes an ability to define priorities and relinquish that which is important for that which is more important. It takes patience, because the price is paid immediately, while it takes time before the positive results can be seen. It takes courage to take chances and make decisions – and more importantly, an ability to implement. It takes leadership – and today the State of Israel needs such leadership.

My Government received an “organization” in a serious condition. A few years ago, the State of Israel suffered a security crisis, an economic recession and a political impasse. We did not despair, and, with courage and determination, dealt with each of these three aspects. In the field of security we waged an all-out war on terror, and achieved significant successes. In the economic field, we implemented a series of comprehensive reforms in almost all fields of economic activity, among which also fields which no one dared touch since the establishment of the State. In the political field, I initiated the Disengagement Plan – a plan to secure Israel’s most essential interests.

The implementation of the Disengagement Plan, in addition to our determined struggle against terror, yielded fruit in all fields. Israel’s international standing improved immensely since the implementation of the plan. We brought about a significant reduction in the level of terror, and increased the personal security of the citizens of Israel. The international markets view the Disengagement Plan as a step which will lead to security and economic stability, which creates movement of capital to the Israeli economy and a sharp increase in foreign investment. As a result of the political and economic steps, we renewed and increased foreign investment in Israel, achieved an increase in export and tourism, and a decrease in unemployment. Every one million additional tourists who visit Israel (and you know this as well as I do) provides employment for 40,000 people.

Despite these successes, we still face many difficult and important challenges – in the field of security, our relations with our neighbors, economy and society.

Today, thanks to the Disengagement, we have an opportunity which we never had in the past. The world has accepted our position that without security for Israel, there will be no political progress. This is what is outlined by the Roadmap, which was adopted by the Government.

According to the Roadmap, the Palestinians must eradicate the terrorist infrastructures, disarm the terror organizations, carry out comprehensive reforms, and cease incitement.

In the last few days we saw what happened in Ireland. It transpires that they insisted on the collection and dismantling of illegal weapons and they insisted on it as I intend to insist on it here. We see progress and the possibility of the resolution of a difficult situation which has lasted for decades.

Only after they do this can we embark on the path of negotiations and proceed to the next phases outlined in the Roadmap. The Roadmap is the only political plan. We will not advance any other plan.

I need not tell you this – Israel is a land of rumors, one rumor following another. Yesterday there was a rumor, as a result of baseless remarks, that Israel will examine other plans. I tell you here, Israel will not examine any other plans. We have one plan – the Roadmap – on which we agreed and behind which the United States stands like a besieged wall. I do not see any change in their position and this is the only plan. We, who have invested much thought on this subject, have no better plan than this one for Israel’s future. And I am emphasizing this because of the rumors and I am sure there are already articles in this regard – I have not yet seen the newspapers.

I want you to know that yesterday was an exciting day in the international community. One ambassador after another came to the Prime Minister’s Office to inquire about it. There are probably those who were pleased that there might be a different plan, which would be easier for the Arabs. But we made this clear. There was also a firm approach by the United States, wondering why Israel was about to change the plan on which we agreed and on which the political solution and the agreement between Israel and the United States is based. We needed to assure them in this regard. And therefore I repeat, there is no other plan, even if people speak on their own accord. There is only one plan and that is the Roadmap.

And let us move on to discussing the issues on which I intend to invest a special effort in the coming years. Economic inequality has increased here for many years and we are obligated to attend to that. The Government will invest great efforts in fighting poverty and narrowing social gaps. We allocated vast funds for that purpose in the 2006 Budget. I established a ministerial committee, which I head, and which includes Ministers Peres and Olmert, to formulate a comprehensive plan and outline policies to deal with poverty. The professional committee, headed by the Director General of the Ministry of Finance, which oversees the team, has commenced its work and will shortly present its findings and recommendations.

The accelerated development of transportation over the past few years, which should bring the periphery closer to the center of the country, and the reforms in the education system, which should provide better and more equal opportunities for all children in Israel – are also strategic steps in the framework of the struggle against poverty.

In recent years, we have witnessed a serious escalation in the level of violence in Israeli society which has turned into a significant threat to the personal security of Israeli citizens. In some ways, tackling the affliction of violence is more difficult than tackling terror, because the enemy comes from within. Therefore, tackling violence is achieved through various steps in many fields.

The Government decided on a policy of zero tolerance towards violence and is engaged in building a comprehensive perennial agreement which will comprise education, prevention, enforcement and rehabilitation. It should also be mentioned that we intend to give special attention to fighting the affliction of drugs, which is also spreading among us. As I mentioned before, we have already begun implementing some of the steps which should make the State of Israel a safer place.

A violence-free society is a crucial factor in ensuring quality of life for all citizens of the State. The struggle against violence is a struggle for the shape of Israeli society in the coming years. We are all determined to ensure that our children and grandchildren will be raised in a safer environment.

It will take many years before the State of Israel can afford to have a leader which preserves the existing situation. In the foreseeable future, the State of Israel will still need leadership which does not fear changes and is also willing to implement them. I promise you that my Government will continue to lead reforms in all fields and do everything necessary to ensure security and hope for a better future for the citizens of Israel.

I should perhaps apologize for my last sentence, because there are people from all political parties here, etc. However, I do not refer to a specific political body, because I feel that the necessary changes apply to everyone. I wish you all shana tova – a year of prosperity and growth, a year of tranquility and peace.

Shana tova and hatima tova.

Thank you.