Business Leaders Met in Cairo to Discuss Investment in Gaza-jericho

As Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization finalized their commitments to each other last week in Cairo, representatives from the American business community met with political leaders from all sides to discuss the economic side of the peace process.

Builders for Peace, a group of Jewish and Arab Americans from the private sector that has agreed to invest money in the Gaza Strip and Jericho, met with high-level officials following the signing last Wednesday of the implementation accord for Palestinian self-rule.

Chief among the group’s concerns was the ability of the Palestinians to implement the accord, according to Steven Grossman, president of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

In a conference telephone call with reporters on Monday, Grossman discussed the highlights of his trip to Cairo, during which he joined the group from Builders for Peace in several meetings with government officials who were there for the signing.

Following the signing ceremony. the delegation met with Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who said he was concerned over whether PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat was prepared to assume control over the autonomous regions, according to Grossman.

“Arafat’s preparedness was (Rabin’s) greatest concern,” Grossman said.

Rabin wanted the group to express his concern to Arafat in a meeting with the Palestinian leader later that day, Grossman said.

At their meeting, Arafat assured the group that he was prepared to direct the implementation of the accord, Grossman said.

“Arafat (has the ability to) use language to reasure people,” Grossman said, “but let’s see what happens when Arafat has control on the ground.”

Builders for Peace was created by Vice President Al Gore in November to provide better economic conditions in the West Bank and Gaza Strip that would lay the groundwork for succesful implementation of the self-rule agreement signed at the White House in September.

Chaired by former California Rep. Mel Levine and Arab American Institute leader James Zogby, the group had to delay much of its investment plan while the Israelis and Palestinians slowly negotiated the implementation accord.

Arafat emphasized to the group in their Cairo meeting that he will encourage private business in the autonomous region, in part by appointing a special Palestinian liaison to Builders for Peace, Grossman said.

Grossman added that Arafat wanted to prove the skeptics wrong who doubt his ability to attract private business to the newly autonomous region. “Arafat said he wasn’t a socialist even when it was fashionable” to be one, he said.

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