ADDRESS BY FOREIGN MINISTER SHIMON PERES TO THE MIDDLE EAST/NORTH AFRICA ECONOMIC SUMMIT IN CASABLANCA

October 30, 1994

The Casablanca Conference is unprecedented. Unlike any other conference in the past, its aim is not to negotiate peace politically, nor to keep peace militarily, but to build peace economically.

Building peace requires us to address the reasons that prevented it, arid there are basically two such reasons: territorial disputes that cause war and result from war, and want a growing want with the growth of population, resulting from poverty, desertification and lack of proper education.

The collapse of communism terminated the East-West strategic divides, and the economic success in Asia and South America put an end to the North-South dichotomy. The coincidence of these two developments rendered military blocs obsolete, and deprived regional conflicts of external sources of support.

Even the Middle East deemed hopeless by many is crossing the threshold into the new era. Here, regional wars ended in disappointment or indecision. Five Arab-Israeli wars were militarily disappointing to the armed forces, and politically disappointing to those who sought accommodation.

The first to agree on the futility of belligerency were Egypt and Israel, followed 15 years later by the agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, and the Peace Treaty between Israel and Jordan signed just last week.

It became clear that occupation is most costly. Moreover once a land is occupied, it is not conquered, and wars are even more expensive and more destructive.

It became clear, too, that the sources of strength and wealth today lie not in expanded territory but in concentrated sciences. And scientific accomplishments cannot be achieved by force of arms. Despair cannot be overwhelmed by military might and the parents of despair poverty, disease, deprivation, discrimination, oppression cannot be conquered by armies or political negotiations.

The entire world is gradually evolving from a universe of enemies into an arena of opportunities and challenges and if, yesterday, we fought each other, today we face a common adversary. If yesterday’s enemy was an army threatening from without, today’s source of violence is principally the menace from within: poverty breeding despair. Our aim is to address ourselves to a Middle East, where its people will have a higher standard of living and a lower standard of violence.

This Conference is the first attempt to view the region with economic eyes, with the intention of improving the lot of the people. Marshall Plans, in themselves, cannot salvage our region: the resources required are too vast, and the Middle East has its own resources. No outsiders can or should be expected to do that which we can and must do ourselves. It is up to us to unleash the potential of our region and launch our area into a policy of "Seven Good Years", which was the policy of Joseph in Egypt.

Yet to achieve this we must reduce the unjustifiable expenditure in the arms race. Over the past ten years, 700 billion dollars have been invested in this region for the purchase of metals of hatred, of arms that produce nothing but fear and destruction. Collectively, we can cut this expense by a half or a third and direct it on a constructive course.

A regional arms race can be capped only with the participation of all relevant countries. Hence, what is called for, is a region-wide consent to change priorities from violence to development. In the missile age, the required boundaries of understanding are defined by the range from launch to target and there is therefore a need for a region-wide agreement of non-belligerency.

Moreover, lack of trust in the viability of the economic situation of the Middle East has created a drain of capital. Over 600 billion dollars have been spent abroad by the wealthy of the region over the past decade. By adopting a market economy, a half of this enormous SLIM may remain at home.

The Middle East needs regional investment basically for the production of water, for the development of tourism, for the installation of modern infrastructure and for the introduction of scientific opportunities in its industry, agriculture and services. 90% of the region is already desert and the remaining 10% is also endangered. The current trend of population growth, doubling every 25 years, without a corresponding increase in the availability of water, is a prescription for increasing desertification. Water is unimpressed with political boundaries or national sovereignties, and the effort must be regional, not national. Our choice is clear – national deserts or regional bloom.

Tourism contributes almost 10.5% of the global economy. Our forefathers made our region into a haven for tourists replete with archeological treasures, nature has blessed us with excellent weather and the culture of the people ensures warm hospitality. Yet tourism demands personal security and adequate infrastructure. For both to come about, we need region-wide cooperation.

The Middle East cannot expect to achieve prosperity hiding behind national boundaries. Technology ignores borders, science traverses customs, and a network of land, sea, air and telecommunication highways is an essential prerequisite for building a new Middle East. The solution can only be regional.

Looking at western economies one can notice that they are often so efficient that they produce more and more unemployment. On the other hand, with the growing trend of privatization, companies have increasing means at their disposal, and governments have decreasing means. We suggest that instead of paying for unemployment, the more developed countries should export capital for production to needy countries.

Governments have huge budgets but no free money. Companies have money but they do not carry political responsibilities. We propose that companies that possess possibilities for investment abroad, will invest in this area while their respective governments will guarantee these investments.

This is not a new philanthropy. This is a new business strategy, using purely economic logic. This Conference is an attempt to create a new combination for investing in this area, thus preventing it from becoming a region that produces menace and desolation. There are almost 300 million people in the Middle East. The choice before them and the outside world is whether to be a poor and bitter people, wearing the cloak of protest and the mantle of fundamentalism or to be 300 million productive consumers, investing in the education of their own posterity and thus able to enter the twenty-first century as equals with the peoples of Europe, the United States and Asia. Here is Casablanca, we are entrusted with the obligation to take the first step in transforming the Middle East from a hunting ground into a field of creativity.

It is here, in this city rich with history, along the shores of our common Mediterranean, and under the chairmanship of His Majesty King Hassan II, that we are entrusted with an actual mandate to dream a new dream about the Middle East and to seek concrete ways to implement it.

The dream is to erect a new Middle East. A region with no wars, no front-lines, yielding a missile-free and hunger-free Middle East.

In the words of His Majesty King Hassan:

"We must prove that the Mediterranean can become a region of solidarity and equilibrium, a true Sea of Galilee, around which the three religions and the sons of Abraham, united by historical bonds, will be able to build a magnificent bridge for the century to come".