(Communicated by the Vice  Prime Minister’s Office)

Vice Prime Minister Shimon Peres, who is responsible for the development of the Negev and Galilee, met this morning (Wednesday, 24 May 2006) with French Minister for Regional Development Christian Estrosi at the Knesset. Peres presented the French minister his ideas about regional economic development, as well as a series of important economic projects among Israel, the Jordanians, and the Palestinians, as well as among Israel, the Egyptians, and the Palestinians. 

"The economic locomotive is that which can propel the train of peace," Peres said, adding that any state in the making should consider an infrastructure that provides its citizens employment and thus the ability to pay taxes. "Therefore," he continued, "the most efficient and effective way the international community can help the Palestinian people is to help them build a modern economy that will provide jobs and thus a basis for tax and revenue generation, not through providing donations or financial aid."

Among the suggestions Peres raised during the meeting:

El Arish: That El Arish airport be temporarily used for exporting agricultural and industrial products from the Gaza Strip to world markets, a move that would avoid delays created by the security checks at Ben-Gurion Airport.

Industrial Zones: Peres noted the successful model of the Israeli-related free trade zones in Jordan (the QIZ – Qualified Industrial Zones), which have generated some $1.5 billion in exports to the United States since about 2000 and provided jobs for 135,000 people. In this context,  Peres said that three such zones should be established in Egypt in cooperation with Israel, generating about 400,000 jobs, and also one for the Palestinians that would have the potential of creating from 100,000 to 200,000 jobs.

"Economic Valley of Peace":  Peres presented his initiative to turn Israel’s 400-kilometer-long eastern border with Jordan into an Economic Valley of Peace, which would include joint tourism projects and joint projects to generate alternative energy sources.

The French minister demonstrated much interest in the projects and the two ministers decided to continue the dialogue at the professional level in order to ascertain how France can participate.