By Fahmi Huwaidi
It should not be assumed that the US convened "Entrepreneurship in the Islamic world" conference in Washington this week is as innocent as its name suggests. There are strong suspicions that the main objective is "interlinking" interests between Arab and Israeli businesses, bridging the deep chasm between the two.
The conference is believed to have sprung from the Egyptian-American Business Forum and officials of the Business Incubation programme sponsored by the US State Department to encourage entrepreneurship projects and a culture of self-employment. There is no doubt that this is a follow-on from President Obama's speech in Cairo last year when he said that he wants to have closer ties with the Muslim world. Given that basic premise, it is surprising that Israel has been invited to attend, along with seventeen other non-Muslim countries. Networking and cooperation is generally a positive thing, but there are special circumstances in this case; normalisation of business relations should follow, not precede, the normalisation of society in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
"The believer should not be stung from the same place twice"; so reads a Prophetic saying. When he came to Cairo last year to address the Muslim world, Obama met with seven journalists who were supposed to represent Muslim countries, and the surprise was that there was an Israeli journalist included. As is well known, I withdrew from the meeting. Similarly, I do not rule out the possibility that non-Muslim countries have been invited to justify and cover the inclusion of Israel at this conference.
That politics is having a big say on this conference is beyond doubt. Initial preparation was made in collaboration with Egypt and Indonesia, two major and well-populated Muslim countries whose presence would ensure the conference attains a degree of credibility. It is strange, therefore, that while Brazil, Norway, Finland and Paraguay, among others, have been invited, two major Muslim countries haven't; neither Sudan nor Iran are on the guest list. What then, is the real reason for holding this conference with such exclusive invitations?
Further doubts are cast on the sincerity of the intentions of the organisers following Obama's inability to achieve anything with regards to Israel-Palestine relations. The rebuff he received from an intransigent and arrogant Benjamin Netanyahu played a key role in defeating attempts to get talks resumed. The US administration has chosen to turn a blind eye to this and look for progress on the economic front instead, in what is a barely-concealed gimmick to build bridges between Israelis and Arabs.
Trying to skirt around the major issue in Palestine is not a new tactic. It was part of the Shimon Peres project to establish what he called "the new Middle East", behind the draft of George W Bush's "Greater Middle East", and can be spotted in Netanyahu's call for what he terms "economic peace" with the Palestinians. Meanwhile, the political issues underpinning the conflict remain untouched and unsolved. This strategy has been applied in Ramallah, with Israeli support and encouragement for economic activity, while the Zionist state has gone about its business as usual with arrests and assassinations in the rest of the West Bank, the Judaising of occupied East Jerusalem and the siege of the Gaza Strip. All are meant to convince the Palestinians that surrendering to Israel is the path to progress and prosperity.
It has been mentioned that sixteen Egyptian businessmen will participate in the Conference on Entrepreneurship. They were probably chosen by the US embassy on the basis of their willingness to take part and interact with the Israelis on economic matters. We must ask if the participants realise that the Israeli occupation of Palestine and siege of Gaza are ongoing and becoming increasingly brutal. We cannot be sure, but what is certain is that those who do take part will be noted on the blacklist of shame and the verdict of history will be harsh.
Source: Qatari Al-Sharq
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