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Team of Palestinian, Israeli, international experts present economic findings to French foreign minister

Feb. 15, 2008 4:29 P.M. (Updated: Feb. 15, 2008 4:29 P.M.)
Bethlehem - Ma'an - An economic working group of Israeli, Palestinian, and international economists met with the French Minister of Foreign Affairs, Bernard Kouchner, on Thursday and presented him with their latest economic research.

The Steering Committee of the Aix Group, a unique group of Israeli, Palestinian and international economic experts who have been working together for the past five years, presented Kouchner with their research results on the economic aspects of a final status agreement between Israel and Palestine in his chamber in the French capital, Paris.

The Aix Group's research focuses on four areas of great economic importance in any future negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians: economic cooperation in Jerusalem, economic aspects of a solution to the Palestinian refugees issue, the nature of cooperation between the countries regarding infrastructure, and three urgent "Fast-Track" issues that include Palestinian employment in Israel, modified trade arrangements, and the development of the Jordan Valley.

The Aix Group's findings are proving to be increasingly more relevant following the US sponsored Annapolis conference last November which kick-started Palestinian-Israeli negotiations.

Minister Kouchner, who is due to arrive in the region on Saturday, highlighted the importance of the Aix Group's work, saying that exploring the economic dimensions of the conflict and its resolution are fundamental for the peace process.

He added that the group's work is in-line with and complements the French government's initiatives towards solving the conflict in the region.

The meeting with Minister Kouchner serves as another phase in the Group's advocacy's efforts. They have previously met with the head of the Palestinian negotiating team, Ahmed Qure'i, members of the Israeli Prime Minister's negotiating team Yoram Turbowicz, Shalom Turjeman, and Prof. Manuel Trajtenberg, the foreign ministry team headed by Director-General Aharon Abramovitch, and the head of the political-security section, in the Ministry of Defense.

The Aix Group was established five years ago under the auspices of the Université Paul Cézanne-Aix-Marseille III in France, and in coordination with the Peres Center for Peace in Israel and DATA Center for Studies and Research in the Palestinian Authority. The Group is chaired by Prof. Gilbert Benhayoun. Mr. Saeb Bamya, former deputy minister in the Ministry of National Economy in the Palestinian Authority, is the group's Palestinian coordinator, and Arie Arnon, Professor of Economics at Ben Gurion University, is the Israeli coordinator.

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