I arrived in Amman with Israelis but was not part of the Israeli
delegation. In addition to the main sessions that were widely
publicized, I attended the session with Palestinian Minister of
Planning and International Cooperation, Nabil Sha'ath, and the
then-Israeli Minister of Economics and Planning, Yossi Beilin. The
session dealt with development in the region and was highlighted by
Dr. Sha'ath complaining about closures and Yossi Beilin trying to
explain and justify the closure policy.
What were the main accomplishments of the summit?
The three-day summit advanced cooperation between the various
parties interested in the development of the region. It promoted
cooperation with Europe, and, to a lesser degree, cooperation in
the region. The conference helped extend and widen investment in
the Middle East and facilitated a deeper involvement of the World
Bank. It strengthened attempts to inte¬grate the region and
establish joint projects, and helped strengthen inter¬regional
and intra-regional cooperation. Jordan was clearly the party that
benefitted the most. There were other Arab countries represented,
most importantly the delegation from Qatar and Oman. Libya, Syria
and Algeria did not attend; but while Lebanon was officially
absent, many Lebanese businesspeople attended in an unofficial
Were there any disappointing aspects to the summit?
Projects worth billions of dollars were presented and discussed but
few of these projects will ever take off. For example, there was a
lot of talk about the gas pipeline with Qatar, but this issue has
been talked about for more than a year now. Things move very
slowly, especially when Israelis are involved. Every country put
forward proposals. The Palestinians had US$6 billion of proposals,
including a pipeline to transport water from the West Bank to
Were there any regional projects which didn't include
The basic projects not including Israelis consisted of some overall
invest¬ments like Volkswagen setting up an assembly plant in
What was the mood like at the summit?
The atmosphere in relations between the Egyptians and Jordanians
was not very comfortable. The Egyptian Foreign Minister thought
that Jordan was going too fast in normalizing relations with
Israel. The Jordanians replied by claiming it was Egypt who started
it 17 years ago.
There was a lot of fighting behind the scenes and some of it came
out in the open. It was clear that there was competition about who
gets what part of the pie. The Egyptians got the headquarters of
the new proposed regional development bank, which was a subject of
con¬tention. This bank was opposed by the French and German
govern¬ments as well as by Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Morocco;
the Palestinians, Israelis and Jordanians were for it. Morocco will
be the headquarters for the planning of future conferences but they
will not be held there; the next one will be in Egypt. Jordan got
the Regional Economic Development and Investment Group (REDWIG)
which at the moment seems to include Egypt, Palestine, Israel, and
Jordan. Morocco and Tunisia are to join later. REDWIG includes
chambers of commerce, tourism, trade and industry.
During the Casablanca Summit many thought that the Israelis
overplayed their cards. Did the attempt to downplay the Israeli
role in Amman work? While Israel was trying not to be dominating
(only 100 Israelis attended), I think it is trying to get a free
ride without paying a full price for peace. Many tentative
agreements are dependent on further progress in the peace
What do you think is needed to turn the region around
Conferences don't turn regions around, but they help create a
framework where businesspeople meet and establish contacts to
Were there any workshops you found valuable?
There was a session regarding the relationship between the private
and public sectors. The conference organizers and the World Bank
wanted to push the private sector, as did many of the Arabs. The
Europeans, on the other hand, talked about the importance of the
public sector on matters such as infrastructure. Nabil Sha'ath says
the Palestinians have no problem in this area because everything
will be private, but I doubt it.
I don't think the Palestinians can develop without a public sector,
and I could cite the Taiwanese and South Korean models, where the
state pro¬vided much of the infrastructure and investment
needed to help the econ¬omy take off. Nevertheless, this
conference was dominated by private sector people, whose side
clearly won the debate with the public sector advocates.
How did the Palestinian delegation do at the
Palestinians always do well at conferences of this sort. They were
very prominent; everyone was conscious of them. There was always a
Palestinian on the panel. People are interested in promoting
Palestinian development projects like industrial zones, and there
was a lot of talk about damage caused by closures. There was a good
feeling towards Palestinians, but I don't know if this feeling
translates into cash. At the end of the day, it was the Jordanians
who dominated this conference.