|Turkish, Israeli and Palestinian businessmen in cooperation initiative|
|Businessmen from Turkey, Israel and the Palestinian territories met here for the first time as part of an initiative to boost economic cooperation and peace efforts in the region, a spokesman for the group said Thursday.|
"We want to contribute to the peace process by doing business," Rifat Hisarciklioglu, the head of the Turkish Union of Chambers and Stock Exchanges (TOBB), told a news conference after the group's first meeting Wednesday.
"There are politicians on both sides with the will to take difficult decisions," he said. "We have to be role models and support such politicians." The initiative, called The Ankara Forum for Turkish-Israeli-Palestinian Economic Cooperation, comprises the TOBB, the Israeli Manufacturers' Association and the Federation of Palestinian Chambers of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture.
The group is expected to hold its second meeting in the first half of June in East Jerusalem to discuss possible projects in the fields of tourism, industry, infrastructure and agriculture, Hisarciklioglu said."We prefer to work with a step-by-step process rather than push ahead rapidly," he said.
The initiative comes ahead of a May 1-2 trip to Israel
and the Palestinian territories by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who will be accompanied by scores of businessmen.
It follows a chilly period in relations between Turkey and Israel, triggered by Erdogan's harsh criticism of Israeli security policies against the Palestinians.
Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul held fence-mending talks in Israel in January, declaring that bilateral ties, reinforced with a 1996 military deal, remained strong.
Turkey, a predominantly Muslim but strictly secular country, believes it can facilitate peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians owing to Ankara's close ties with both sides.
Beirut,05 02 2005
The Daily Star