This past weekend, October 18-20, 2001, 18 Israeli and Palestinian economic personalities conducted talks on the current state of economic relations between the State of Israel and the Palestinian territories and the possibilities for working together to improve the economic realities on the ground. Participants in the meeting included several Israeli and Palestinian officials from various governmental ministries and bodies alongside of Israeli and Palestinian economic experts. The meeting was organized by IPCRI, the Israel Palestine Center for Research and Information and the Jerusalem based Konrad Adenauer Foundation headed by Dr. Johannes Gerster. The participants held their meeting in Villa Collina a conference center of the Konrad Adenaeur foundation located in Lake Como in Northern Italy. The talks were chaired by Dr. Gershon Baskin and Dr. Zakaria al Qaq, the Israeli and Palestinien Co-Directors of IPCRI.
The Israeli and Palestinian participants conducted their meetings at the same time that violence was re-erupting in Israel and Palestine, serving a strong reminder of the difficult realities that have developed over the past 13 months. Despite the tragic events unfolding in Israel and Palestine, the Israeli and Palestinian participants in the talks declared their willingness to continue their discussions in Jerusalem as soon as possible. All of the participants recognize the importance of finding every possible means to get the sides back to the negotiations table and believe that there is a strong link between the political and economic situations on the ground.
The meeting got off to a stormy start following the assassination of Israeli Minister of Tourism Rehavam Zeevi and after the Israeli invasion of the Palestinian Authority territories in response. Acting on a decision of official Israeli bodies, the Israeli delegation traveled to Italy after learning about the assassination of Zeevi. The Israeli delegation expressed their desire to positively respond to the Palestinian initiative of convening the Lake Como talks. Internal political issues brought about a delay in the Palestinian official participation in the talks with the heads of the delegation from the Palestinian side unable to arrive as planned. Nevertheless, two days of intensive talks were held in an atmosphere resembling the spirit of interaction that existed during the more optimistic and cooperative periods at the beginning of the Oslo process. A number of the participants at the talks had in fact negotiated the first Israeli-Palestinian economic agreement: the Paris Protocol in 1994.
The talks focused on economic developments of the past year and on the need to provide Israeli and Palestinian decision makers with economic recommendations concerning the current realities of economics and political separation. While recognizing that the present state of economic detachment and separation appear to be irreversible, all of the Israeli and Palestinian participants held the position that this would be detrimental, in particular to the Palestinian economy, and would not help in the chances of building peace in the future. Israeli officials and academics attending the talks stressed that the Palestinians must determine the nature of the economic relationship that they wished to have with Israel and that they would then relate to the best means of implementing those wishes. Palestinian officials and academics at the talks emphasized their position that there must be economic independence in Palestine however the Palestinian economy must build cooperation with Israel in order to create prosperity for the Palestinian people.
Not ignoring the realities on the ground both sides discussed the pressing need to end the violence on both sides and believe that the leaders on both sides must play a more active and direct role in recreating a real peace process between them.