Joint ventures between U.S. and Israeli firms would lessen the fears of many Palestinians that Israel, despite allowing self-rule in the Gaza Strip, would continue to dominate them economically, said Goira Meyuhas, Israel’s North American Economic Minister at a seminar hosted  by the American-Israel Chamber of Commerce-Southeast Region.

Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza this week ended a 27-year occupation and underlined the extent of the transition in which Israel and neighboring Arab countries are participating.

“Israel is not a marketplace of 4.5 million, but rather a marketplace of 200 million,” Mr. Meyuhas told the meeting at the Sheraton Colony Square Hotel.   Nevertheless, the economic disparity in the region is extreme, he added, with annual gross domestic product per capita in Israel at $30,000 in comparison to $1,400 for the West Bank Palestinians and less than $1,000 in Jordan.

Israel’s growth will be driven by improving stability of the region, the size of the potential regional market and the dwindling effectiveness of the Arab boycott, he said.  And as the peace process proceeds, he expects more foreign investment will flow into the region, citing as an example Intel Corp.’s commitment of $1 billion to a manufacturing plant of semiconductors in Jerusalem.

As examples of efforts to develop the regional economy, Mr. Meyuhas described plans to link electrical grids and gas lines with Jordan and Syria.  He also said that the countries in the region would work together to provide sufficient water to supply manufacturing facilities throughout the area.

The American-Israel Chamber of Commerce may be reached by telephone at (404) 874-6970 or by fax at (404) 874-7277.