JERUSALEM, Nov. 13 (JTA) – Foreign Minister David Levy has decided not to attend next week’s regional economic summit in the Persian Gulf state of Qatar. A Foreign Ministry spokesman said Thursday that Levy made the decision after concluding that the primary focus of the meeting was economic, not political. The ministry said that Industry and Trade Minister Natan Sharansky would head the Israeli delegation to the Nov. 16-18 meeting in the Qatari capital of Doha. The fourth annual Middle East and North Africa economic conference has been overshadowed by controversy, with Arab states calling for a boycott of the meeting, citing the lack of progress in the Israeli- Palestinian peace process. Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Morocco and the United Arab Emirates announced that they are boycotting the meeting. Jordan, Kuwait, Yemen, Tunisia and Oman have confirmed their attendance – partially due to pressure from the United States. Still, they are expected to send low-level representatives. U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who is expected to take part in some of the proceedings, is expected to be the highest-ranking official among the visiting delegations. Some 1,000 businessmen have registered for the conference, according to Martin Indyk, U.S. assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs. He said the conference is important because it maintains the “infrastructure” for peace. The lack of enthusiasm for the Doha meeting stands in stark contrast to the previous conferences, which were seen as the most visible sign of a new era in Israeli-Arab relations. When Israeli and Arab leaders convened in Casablanca, Morocco, three years ago, an air of euphoria prevailed amid high hopes for the recently launched peace process. There were similar expectations at the 1995 conference in Amman, Jordan, which focused on creating regional economic institutions. Among the political leaders attending the Amman gathering was Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin – just weeks before he was assassinated. The atmosphere began to change by the time of last year’s conference in Cairo. Setbacks in the peace process and Arab concerns about Israel’s recently elected Likud government prompted organizers to shift the emphasis from economic to political terms. Ironically, the Cairo conference proved successful for the Egyptian economy. Numerous multimillion-dollar contracts for Egyptian factories were signed as a result of the conference. This year, the Qataris hope to repeat that success in terms of their own economy.
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