Israel Sends Big Entourage to Casablanca Economic Summit

The historic economic summit that opened Sunday night in Casablanca included an Israeli delegation comprising no less than seven government ministers, members of the Knesset, as well as Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres.

The Israeli delegates were in the company of more than 720 politicians from 60 countries and 1,200 top executives from private enterprises in the Arab world, the United States, Europe and the Far East.

The three-day Middle East-North Africa Economic Summit, hosted by King Hassan of Morocco, was hailed as a first-of-its-kind meeting to consolidate peace in the region through economic cooperation and development.

At the opening of the conference, King Hassan said the conference would strengthen peace and enable residents of the region to live in harmony.

Hassan congratulated Rabin, Peres and Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat, who also attended the conference, for being named co-recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize. The king also hailed the peace treaty signed last week by Israel and Jordan.

U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher called on the Arab countries to end their economic boycott against Israel. He also emphasized the importance of investment — in particular from the private sector — to fortify peace in the region.

RABIN CALLS FOR INTERNATIONAL INVESTMENTS

Arafat said he hoped the 21st century would see the establishment of a Palestinian state, and he stressed the importance of economic strength in forming the basis for regional peace.

In his remarks, Rabin thanked King Hassan for his role in nurturing the Middle East peace process.

“I came to you 18 years ago, disguised, in secret, in search of peace,” the prime minister said. He was referring to his secret visit to Morocco in November 1977, a move that led the way for the late Egyptian President Anwar Sadat’s visit to Jerusalem and the signing of a peace treaty with Egypt in 1979.

Rabin called on the international business community to invest in the autonomous Palestinian zones of the Gaza Strip and West Bank Jericho district as a means for overcoming terror and forming a strong economic life for Palestinians.

“Poverty is the fertile ground” for the Islamic Jihad, Rabin said, referring to one of the fundamentalist Muslim groups opposed to Israel’s ongoing peace initiative with the Palestinians.

All countries from the Middle East and North Africa took part in the summit, with the exceptions of Iraq, Iran, Libya, Syria and Lebanon. Syrian and Lebanese businesspeople were reportedly participating in a private capacity.

The conference represents a landmark for Israel, which was for the first time welcomed at the highest level in an Arab country as an equal partner.

Israeli and Arab business leaders came equipped with proposals for specific investment and cooperation projects.

Israel is proposing more than 100 joint projects worth about $25 billion, half of them for water projects, Israel Radio reported.

Other Israeli proposals include a cooperative project for tourist development in the Red Sea area. Israel Television reported that Egyptian and Jordanian participants brought with them similar proposals.

The economic summit is seen as another step toward ending the Arab economic boycott of Israel, with Peres saying the conference essentially ended the boycott in practice.

“It is impossible to have such a conference and continue the Arab boycott,” he said.

Syria, in deciding not to formally attend the conference, complained that it would weaken the economic boycott as a bargaining chip in negotiations.

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