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"I intend to establish a joint economic and social forum to formulate a socioeconomic policy quickly," Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu said yesterday in his opening remarks before a meeting he called with 60 senior business and economic figures.

The event was held in the Crowne Plaza Hotel in the Azrieli Center in Tel Aviv, and there were clear signs of the economic crisis on the faces of many participants.

On one side of Netanyahu sat MK Yuval Steinitz (Likud), head of Netanyahu's transition team and a candidate for minister in the Finance Ministry. On the other side sat Yaakov Neeman, a former finance minister and possibly the next justice minister.

Netanyahu said he will meet with representatives of social-welfare organizations today. "We cannot support a strong society without basing it on a strong economy," he said.

Most of the discussion at the meeting centered around the issue of unemployment. Netanyahu said he hoped to refrain from firing workers as much as possible.

"I call on everyone to make an effort to protect workers. I know it will take time until the economic 'ship' changes course, and I ask [you] to make every effort to limit the spread of unemployment," Netanyahu urged those present.

Yitzhak Tshuva, the first of the invitees who spoke, noted that it was possible to reach an almost zero level of unemployment by creating jobs. He also spoke of the water crisis, saying there are enough desalinization plants to solve the problems in this realm.

In answer to criticism about why the event was held in such an expensive location, Netanyahu aides said the cost of the affair was only NIS 900 plus VAT, plus another NIS 9 per participant.