Israel confirms Alabbar initiative

ISRAELI deputy prime minister Shimon Peres has for the first time revealed details of the meeting between himself and Emaar chairman Mohammed Alabbar.

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By  Massoud A. Derhally Published  May 29, 2005

ISRAELI deputy prime minister Shimon Peres has for the first time revealed details of the meeting between himself and Emaar chairman Mohammed Alabbar. The Emaar boss visited the Palestinian territories in February, amid reports he had high-level talks with the Israelis, sparking outrage in the Arab world. In an interview with Arabian Business, during the WEF in Jordan, Peres said: “Yes [I met with him]. I offered him to do whatever he wants to do in the Gaza strip. We are not the boss of the Gaza strip, but we say the settlements will be available as well. So it’s up to them.” Peres added: “In August we will be out of Gaza and the master of Gaza will be the Palestinians. We shall be a second driver, namely we shall help, we shall not lead. But we shall help to make the situation in Gaza much better.” According to the Israeli media earlier this year, Alabbar said he would pay US$56 million for 21 Jewish settlements to be evacuated in the Gaza strip. Israel says it might demolish the homes but spare other infrastructure. The country is planning to pull all of its 8000 settlers from Gaza and the troops that protect them as part of the disengagement plan. It will maintain control of Gaza’s borders, coastline and airspace. However, shortly after the media alleged such discussions were taking place, Alabbar refuted any talk about purchasing or making offers to purchase any settlements. “I didn’t offer any numbers — they are just estimations made. We didn’t ask about the value, the whole process was just a proposal to leave the facilities [settlements] intact to avoid loss if demolished,” Alabbar said at the time. When approached again last week in Jordan, Alabbar told Arabian Business he had no insight into anything regarding Israel. “I’m a businessman. You speak to the ministry of foreign affairs,” he said. Observers said that the purchase of settlements by Alabbar would be of great added value to the Palestinian economy, which is facing 60% unemployment. According to the United Nations, nearly half the population is now living in poverty, earning less than US$2 a day. Munib Masri, billionaire tycoon and chairman of the Palestine Development and Investment Company, told Arabian Business: “We as PADICO would like to take 5-10% of any deal [that salvages the settlements in Gaza]. It is important that Palestinians also build what has been destroyed … we have not talked to Emaar or Alabbar but I respect him, I respect what he’s doing and respect that anything he puts his hand into becomes viable. I think he knows what he’s talking about. We want him to come and invest in Palestine and I’m ready to sit with him.” The confirmation of talks with Alabbar come at a time when Israel is attempting a wider charm offensive in the Arab world. Peres was aggressively courting Arab nations at the recent World Economic Forum, in an effort to improve Arab-Israeli relations. Israel has had a commercial trade office in Qatar since 1996, a number of Israeli officials have visited the small emirate and high-level talks have been held between Peres and the Qatari foreign minister, Sheikh Hamad Bin Jassem Bin Jaber Al Thani. Qatar recently requested Israel’s support as it vies to gain one of the 10 revolving seats on the UN Security Council. Qatar’s request for assistance, said Peres, is “a result of our developing relations with Qatar”. Asked if Israel planned to open a commercial office in Dubai, as has been rumoured, Peres answered: “It’s a good idea.” There was also contact between Israeli and Iraqi officials at the World Economic Forum with Iraqi foreign minister Hoshyar Zebari shaking hands and greeting Israeli Cabinet minister Benjamin Ben Eliezer, who is an Iraqi-born Israeli politician. Even Sheikha Lubna Al Qasimi, the UAE’s minister of economy and planning, took part in a panel discussion on developing a regional tourism strategy with Israeli tourism minister Avraham Hirchson at the Forum. Israel has signed peace treaties with Jordan, Egypt and Mauritania but has limited representative offices in Qatar, Morocco and Tunisia.

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