Days after the conclusion of a historic economic conference that drew Israelis and Arabs to Casablanca, Morocco, some 2,000 businesspeople from the region were in Jerusalem this week for the third annual Jerusalem Business Conference.
Organizers of the Jerusalem conference credited the peace process and the recent Morocco meeting for the unprecedented turnout, which included participants from Kuwait, Tunisia, Morocco and Jordan.
The Jerusalem conference, aimed at promoting foreign investment in the Middle East, drew representatives from governments and multinational companies that had never before done business in Israel. For the first time, 30 Palestinian industrialists from the territories also took part, hoping to lure foreign investors.
Speaking at the opening dinner over the weekend, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin said, “The Tunisians are here, the Jordanians, the Egyptians, Now we are talking business and not war anymore.”
Mamoom Hariri, a Kuwaiti lawyer attending the conference, told Israel Television, “We came to check things out. We are looking forward to a better future for everybody.”
Benny Gaon, the chairman of the conference, said that while last week’s three- day meeting in Casablanca focused on both economic and political matters, the Jerusalem conference’s sole focus is the expansion of regional business opportunities.
The development of regional tourism ranked high on the conference agenda. In attendance were a number of hotel and gambling entrepreneurs who hope to push Israel to change its anti-gambling laws, a move supported by Tourism Minister Uzi Baram.
At a panel discussion, Baram predicted that casinos would be a big draw in regional tourism. For Israel not to allow gambling could mean a loss of some $1 billion in gross revenues, he said.