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Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said late Tuesday that the disengagement from Gaza was the driving force that brought economic growth in 2004 and the beginning of 2005.

Sharon spoke after he was named the most influential man in Israel's economy by financial magazine TheMarker. The list was revealed Tuesday evening at TheMarker's conference of the 100 Most Influential People in 2005, held in Caesarea.

At the convention, the prime minister said, "The disengagement is the political and economic process that resulted in the growth in the economy in 2004 and the first half of 2005." Sharon also said the forecasts for next year appear optimistic.

According to Sharon, the disengagement plan and the relative calm it brought with it, caused a rise in tourism. He also said the disengagement is viewed internationally as a move that will bring stability both from an economic and a defense perspective, and will therefore increase investments. "In the first half of 2005, foreign investments had already come to a sum of five billion dollars, up from only three and a half billion dollars in the previous year," the prime minister said.

The prime minister also addressed the issue of the day after the disengagement from Gaza. "After the completion of the withdrawal from Gaza, we will allocate resources to the fundamental problems in the 2006 budget. Special care will be given to the battle against violence, increasing security, investments, and encouraging immigration," Sharon said.

Sharon stressed how important it is to keep the faith of foreign investors, both from a political and a financial standpoint. "We must learn to channel our inner strength and face the challenges of tomorrow. The government will continue to implement its policy through reforms, while keeping up the political progress and the structural changes, which will lead us into the 21st century. We will continue to stand by the reliable policy we have held up so far, a policy which resulted in the faith international markets have in Israel," the prime minister said.

In his speech, the prime minister also promised to continue to invest in planning for infrastructure to help residents of outlying communities, allocate funds toward education and instate negative income tax. Ariel Sharon also mentioned that newly-appointed Finance Minister Ehud Olmert will head a committee to fight poverty.

The prime minister reiterated how important it was to meet goals the government has set, regarding inflation, the state deficit and government expenses, while retaining the stability of the economy.

This is the first time a prime minister has headed TheMarker's list. In the past two years the finance minister at the time, Benjamin Netanyahu, had topped the list and in 2002, it had been the Supervisor of Banks. In 2001 the No. 1 name was a businessman, Eliezer Fishman.

This is the fourth year in which TheMarker Magazine has compiled a list ranking the people expected to wield the most influence over Israel's economy in the coming year.