Arabs and Israelis Start Turning Swords Into Business Shares
A HIGH-POWERED summit here on regional integration had some surprising political spinoffs that could boost Israel's faltering accord with the Palestine Liberation Organization and hasten a peace treaty between Israel and Syria.Skip to next paragraph
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The Middle East-North Africa Economic Summit, convened here Oct. 30 to Nov. 1, highlighted the international isolation of Syria and Lebanon, which boycotted the conference, as well as the economic benefits that would flow to these countries from a peace treaty with Israel.
Plans are already underway for a follow-up summit to be held in the Jordanian capital of Amman in June next year. It will attempt to draw Syria and Lebanon into the growing club of Arab states seeking peace with Israel and the normalization of their international trade and investment.
The Casablanca conference sought to enlist the international business community in shoring up the Middle East peace process through trade and investment - particularly in those countries already shifting toward free-market policies, such as Jordan, Morocco, Egypt, and Tunisia.
``What we are talking about here is a new kind of Marshall Plan,'' said Leslie Gelb, president of the New York-based Council on Foreign Relations, cosponsor of the Summit. ``You won't get the United States and other governments putting up billions of dollars in grant aid anymore. But you will get them opening up and supporting trade and investment between the Middle East and the rest of the world.''
On the Palestinian front, next Monday's scheduled meeting between Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat is being seen in political and diplomatic circles as their most important meeting since the Israel-PLO accord was signed a year ago.
Palestinian officials say that the Rabin-Arafat meeting is crucial for creating the climate and setting the date for the holding of Palestinian elections that Mr. Arafat is demanding by the end of this month.
Palestinian officials who attended the summit were far more conciliatory about the Israel-PLO accord at the end of the conference than they were when it began. This was largely due to five important developments resulting from the conference:
* The pledge by Jordan's Crown Prince Hassan that Jordan would hand over custodianship of Jerusalem Muslim shrines once the final status of Jerusalem is decided.
* Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres said that Israel regarded the Palestinian issue as the key component of a Middle East settlement and vowed to redouble efforts to secure a peace treaty with Syria.
* While there was a broad consensus that trade and investment should drive the process of economic integration in the Middle East, short-term aid for the Palestinians is vital for repairing the damage caused during the conflict with Israel.
* A clear message given to Israel that the borders of the Palestinian territories have to be kept open for trade, tourism, and employment to allow the Palestinian Authority (PA) to build a viable economy.
* A decision to set up a steering committee to advance plans for three regional bodies: a development bank, a tourism board, and a chamber of commerce.