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K-School Runs Mideast Conference

In London, Israelis, Palestinians Discuss the Economy and Security

NO WRITER ATTRIBUTED

The Kennedy School's Institute for Social and Economic Policy in the Middle East (ISEPME) sponsored a two-day conference in London this week for the purpose of discussing security and trade in the Middle East after the recent Israeli elections.

The conference, which took place Tuesday and yesterday, attracted such important figures in the peace process as Moshe Arens, the former Israeli minister of foreign affairs and defense; Amre Moussa, the Egyptian minister of foreign affairs; and Nabeel Sha'ath, the minister of planning and international cooperation for the Palestine National Authority.

The election of Benjamin Netanyahu six weeks ago as Israel's new prime minister has discouraged some proponents of the ongoing Middle East peace process. Netanyahu has vowed to take a harder line than did his predecessors, Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin, on trusting the surrounding Arab nations on security and economic matters.

In the aftermath of the election, conference organizers said, a vacuum has arisen in the elaborate preparations of the peace process--a vacuum this conference is intended to fill.

"No one is working on this critical set of issues having to do with trade and security," said Leonard J. Hausman, director in the ISEPME and co-chair of the conference.

"What's incredible is that the first meeting on economics be convened by Harvard University, that with the whole peace process the governments didn't do it," Hausman said.

Robert Z. Lawrence, Williams professor of international trade and investment and co-chair of the conference, said he thought it was productive for the two groups to meet after the change in government.

"This was really the first meeting between the Israelis and the Arabs since the election, and I think we had a very good dialogue," Lawrence said. "There are a lot of concerns on both sides."

"Instead of a honeymoon period, which is what usually happens after an election in the U.S., there were a lot of concerns that this was a divorce," he said.

According to the co-chairs, the main problem the conference addressed was how to encourage trade in the Middle East while maintaining Israel's security.

"The chief outcome of the conference is that under our institute we will be pursuing work on how to promote Israeli-Palestinian-Egyptian-Jordanian trade without sacrificing Israeli security," Hausman said. "In other words how to disentangle tomatoes and bombs as tomatoes cross borders."

Lawrence noted the difficulties of equating the concerns of various countries in the Middle East.

"The Palestinian economy is in dire straits," Lawrence said. "There's a need for that economy to have trade, but there's also a need on the part of the Israelis for security."

Eliezer Yaari, a former head of programs for Israeli television said the conference drew a large media contingent, although the press was only allowed into the keynote speeches and not the panel discussions.

"The idea was to maintain a professional atmosphere without the lights of television and the pressure of the press behind them, to allow the free flow of conversation," Yaari said.

Both co-chairs seemed pleased with the flow of the conference.

"We really got important Egyptians, Israelis, Jordanians and Palestinians to talk about this," Hausman said. "People really got into it, talking very seriously."

But Hausman said the conference wasn't entirely a success.

"Some people came away being encouraged and others discouraged and others confused," he said. "I would say the right thing would be to be encouraged and confused.

"This was really the first meeting between the Israelis and the Arabs since the election, and I think we had a very good dialogue," Lawrence said. "There are a lot of concerns on both sides."

"Instead of a honeymoon period, which is what usually happens after an election in the U.S., there were a lot of concerns that this was a divorce," he said.

According to the co-chairs, the main problem the conference addressed was how to encourage trade in the Middle East while maintaining Israel's security.

"The chief outcome of the conference is that under our institute we will be pursuing work on how to promote Israeli-Palestinian-Egyptian-Jordanian trade without sacrificing Israeli security," Hausman said. "In other words how to disentangle tomatoes and bombs as tomatoes cross borders."

Lawrence noted the difficulties of equating the concerns of various countries in the Middle East.

"The Palestinian economy is in dire straits," Lawrence said. "There's a need for that economy to have trade, but there's also a need on the part of the Israelis for security."

Eliezer Yaari, a former head of programs for Israeli television said the conference drew a large media contingent, although the press was only allowed into the keynote speeches and not the panel discussions.

"The idea was to maintain a professional atmosphere without the lights of television and the pressure of the press behind them, to allow the free flow of conversation," Yaari said.

Both co-chairs seemed pleased with the flow of the conference.

"We really got important Egyptians, Israelis, Jordanians and Palestinians to talk about this," Hausman said. "People really got into it, talking very seriously."

But Hausman said the conference wasn't entirely a success.

"Some people came away being encouraged and others discouraged and others confused," he said. "I would say the right thing would be to be encouraged and confused.

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