At the World Economic Forum on the Middle East
Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt
18 May 2008
Distinguished Members of the Forum,
When they write the histories - this could be 2008:The birth-year of independent Palestine...
An end-point to a 60-year timeline of conflict...
The start of a new global position for the entire Middle East.
These goals are more than a vision. After years of delay, progress is possible. The Arab Peace Initiative has provided the foundation for a settlement between Israelis and Palestinians – this year. And peace has global support.
Time is now of the essence. It is vital that the year 2008 does not end as the year 2000 did: with progress cut off, the sphere of agreement collapsing and years of expanding violence to come.
We need to ask ourselves, how much further ahead would we be today, if these last eight years had been years of peace and stability? If, all this time, a sovereign Palestine had been building and thriving? If extremists and external forces had not had this issue to manipulate? If global investors and customers had been able to approach our region with even greater business confidence? If the Middle East were, already, the united economic powerhouse it can and should be - a regional community, speeding growth, ending poverty, creating jobs, and securing the future, the future for which our young people are preparing so hard?
Let us not stand here in eight years, or even one year, thinking, “if only.” We can begin a different future, right now.
It starts by lifting the shadow of catastrophe. Celebrations of independence are hollow while lasting peace is still denied because of unhealed wrongs. The real day of celebration will be here, only when Palestinians and Israelis can both say: I am free. I am safe. The past is behind us.
Leaders on both sides promise their people that they will never abandon their nation's rights. Let them also tell their people what will achieve those rights: a negotiated settlement, with all its hard choices. Nothing else will do. Not armed, unilateral action. Not barriers. Force and isolation bring false peace – and false peace is false security. After 60 years, it is past time to create a new basis for the future, one that recognises the needs of all.
For Palestinians, such agreement promises true independence: a state that can stand on its own, an intact land within sovereign borders, capable of fruitful economic life, and secure, sustainable national development. For Israelis, it brings true security: an end to conflict and relationships of respect and cooperation across the region.
Ending this conflict will have global impact. Here in the region, it is key to resolving other challenges, created or worsened by this central crisis. In Lebanon, the recent escalation brings dangerous threats of sectarian strife and revives fears of civil war. The Lebanese people are now made to pay the price of external powers' interference. It is crucial that the Lebanese make their own decisions and resolve their own differences, independent of external influences.
We cannot overestimate the cost of regional conflict, even as we move forward. This room is full of success stories that give evidence of our people's tremendous capability. Many of you have played leading roles, in a challenging environment, to help our region and economies advance. But a universal truth applies: To make gains against the hurdles, the citizens of conflict areas must work far harder, risk far more, than those who live in regions of stability and peace.
We must not accept such a disadvantage. And this year, God willing, we will change our place in the equation.
The Middle East is in an exceptional position to move forward. Rising global energy demand has brought abundant financial liquidity. These resources build on our region's other positive assets - a marketplace of 250 million consumers, a deep tradition of enterprise and learning and a young population, with high aspirations and global awareness.
We need to do all we can to invest these assets in the growth of our own economies. This will make a direct contribution to our future: raising per capita incomes, lifting poor communities, giving young people opportunities and building a platform for our businesses to compete worldwide.
It is also vital to invest in innovation. The Middle East has long experience with issues that other regions are only beginning to worry about, from water scarcity to sustainable energy. Our companies should be at the top of these emerging industries, as the leading source of creative solutions.
In all these areas, government can do much to remove constraints to growth, invest in a competitive workforce, and encourage new enterprise. Jordan's enterprise zones are an example; first in Aqaba, and now also in communities around the country. Regional cooperation is also vital, and it is advancing, with new linkages and agreements needed for a true regional market.
We cannot relax these efforts; we need to expand them. Again, Jordan and many other countries in our region have initiatives in place. Last year, the Jordan Armed Forces and several private-sector businesses came together in a unique jobs-training program in the booming construction industry. Young apprentices received salaries and benefits equivalent to military recruits, and a job at the end of their training period.
In such efforts, there is no substitute for private-sector engagement. Our countries cannot wait for economic growth to solve all our problems, even if it could. We need, right now, to put our minds and resources together, to build structures and processes that will put our countries in position to succeed.
That means deliberate, focused development partnerships - public-private initiatives in education, health, infrastructure, and more. Business has great management tools to offer. The flexibility to move quickly. Access to global capabilities and resources. And last but not least, the ability to direct resources and personnel to urgent needs.
The link between business and development falls in the area that has come to be called corporate social responsibility. There are those who think of CSR as a new term for charity or a kind of public relations. I don't believe that we in the Middle East could ever make that mistake. Comprehensive development is a pillar of our economic future. It is essential to the success of every business here. The more effectively we work together, the faster we can change lives, build stability and create the future our people deserve. It is a moral responsibility, it is a human responsibility, and it is a business responsibility as well.
It has been said that a great man makes more opportunities than he is given. In your meetings here at the Forum, I hope you will create many new opportunities, to advance the future of your countries and region.
It starts at the top, with CEOs and CFOs, who can commit the vision and powers of your organisations. But success depends on people at every level, from professionals to trainees. Above all, let us invest in our young people, work with them, listen to them, tap their energy and respect their hopes.
I am honoured to have joined you at this World Economic Forum on the Middle East. I thank President Mubarak and the Egyptian government for hosting this conference and for the hospitality we have been shown. This year's theme is Learning from the Future. I think that one of the most important lessons I have learned, is that tomorrow will not be ours to shape, unless we start building tomorrow, today.
Together, we have a chance to make life better for millions of people – through coexistence and community; through social and political development, through real economic opportunities.
And every advance we create now, will be multiplied exponentially when peace comes.
We must be ready.
Thank you very much.