U.S. Ambassador to Israel Edward S. Walker Jr. encouraged representatives of local businesses attending a luncheon in Atlanta on Sept. 27 to help strengthen the commercial ties between Israel and its Arab neighbors by investing and conducting business in the Middle East.

       True, lasting peace requires positive and practical ties between individual citizens, companies and organizations throughout the Middle East, he told about 100 attendees meeting for the event of the American-Israel Chamber of Commerce event held in the Selig Center in midtown.

      In the initial phases the difficulties will be frustrating and the profits may be limited, but the future holds enormous promise, both for profits and for peace, he added.

      Mr. Walker painted a fairly bleak economic picture of the current economic situations in Israel, Egypt, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority.  During an interview with GlobalFax following the luncheon, however, he was more upbeat.

      In fact, I think the situation is better than most people think, he said, both in terms of the peace process and in terms of doing business in the region.  Naturally there are frustrations…but working with a partner in Israel or within the Palestinian areas or in Jordan, generally those problems can be overcome.

      In his address, he mentioned that the short-term outlook in Israel is problematic because it is suffering from an economic slowdown and rising unemployment.  Egypt was finally pulling out of a decade-long slump, he said, but the prospects for Jordan and the Palestinian Authority were not as positive.

      Opening Israeli, Palestinian and Jordanian markets to freer trade would work to the long term advantage of all, he said while acknowledging that only 7% of all trade in the region is with other members in the region.

      While exports to the West Bank and Gaza exceed $1 billion a year, Jordanian exports to these areas amount to only $7 million a year, he said.  On the face of it, that does not appear to be a natural state of affairs.

      In addition, he cited a doubling of Israeli-Jordanian trade in the past year.  But Jordanian exports to Israel are no more than $12.5 million while imports from Israel amount to $20 million.

      To learn more about American-Israel Chamber of Commerce events, call (404) 874-697.