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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Arabs, Israelis Unite For Economic Talks

CASABLANCA, Morocco -- Lofty words of praise for Mideast peace gave way to the nuts and bolts of foreign investment Monday as government and business leaders from 65 countries sought ways to boost the region's capital-starved economies.


More than 2,500 participants in the inaugural Middle East-North Africa Economic Summit, which opened Sunday, began panel discussions on topics ranging from capital markets and foreign investment to tourism and information technology.


"The money is available. It's a matter of creating the proper environment for stability and profitability," Percy Barnevik, head of the Swiss-Swedish engineering company Asea Brown Boveri, told Monday morning's session.


Use of the region's scarce water resources is high on the list of problems that the region could solve through greater cooperation among Israel and Arab nations.


Banking, media business, the environment, dropping trade barriers and boosting the Palestinian economy are also under discussion at the summit which aims to unite the fractious region by creating interdependent economies and raising the standard of living in some of the world's poorest countries.


The summit marks the first time Israeli and Arab officials and investors meet to formulate specific investment and cooperation projects.


The Israeli delegation said it was bringing 150 business proposals from the private sector worth $25 billion.


Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat, who met Sunday before the opening of the conference, found some common ground. Both called for international aid and investment to enhance peace in the region.


"Why is the international community not coming to encourage jobs, encourage projects in Gaza and Jericho?" Rabin asked, referring to the territories now under control of a Palestinian self-rule government.


Bilateral treaties with Arab states such as the one Israel signed with Jordan on Wednesday, he said, "are the foundation, the wall, the roof of the building. This Casablanca meeting has to create the environment to fill this empty house of peace with contents."


The emerging self-rule government led by the PLO needs financial aid, Rabin said, noting that in the last 10 years the United States has given Israel $30 billion in aid and Egypt $24 billion.


Arafat called on the countries that have committed $2.4 billion to the Palestinians to keep their promises.


"Continuing to apply the accords is the only way to assure stability and fight extremism," Arafat said. "If not, the first steps on the road to peace will be threatened."


Shortly before the summit opened, Rabin and Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres met with Arafat to discuss ways of easing strife and speeding up Palestinian autonomy.


Rabin announced a gradual opening beginning Tuesday of border crossings between Israel and the Gaza Strip, closed after an Oct. 19 bus bombing that killed 22 people.