While talks go on in Washington, Arafat and Peres talk business

PARIS (AP) — Contending that peace is impossible without prosperity, Yasser Arafat and former Israeli leader Shimon Peres signed a World Bank accord Tuesday that will pour up to $200 million into businesses in the West Bank and Gaza.
The signing in Paris came as Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu met with President Clinton in Washington for key talks on the withering peace process.
“Even if there are problems on the political level — and there are — there is no reason why we shouldn’t move ahead economically,” said Peres, a former prime minister of the leftist Labor Party.
“Let us continue in this march,” said Arafat, who holds one-on-one meetings with Clinton on Thursday.
The development money will go into a new fund, called the Peace Technology Fund, that is the first initiative aimed at linking the Israeli, Palestinian and international business sectors. Peres, whose Peres Center for Peace is supporting the fund, is expected to be its chairman.
The World Bank-organized fund will invest $200 million — $100 million from the private sector and $100 million from the public sector — in West Bank- and Gaza-based companies. A company comprised of Israeli and Palestinian fund managers will manage the money.
While it is not a requirement that fund recipients be joint ventures between Israelis and Palestinians, the money is aimed at such applicants.
“Peace can only be achieved when there is hope,” World Bank president James Wolfensohn said at the signing. “Economic viability is the key to hope.”
Netanyahu’s government has given its full backing to the fund, said Avi Pazner, the Israeli ambassador to France.
While Israel’s average per capita income is $17,000 a year, the Palestinian figure is just more than $1,000.
According to a European Commission report, since 1993, Palestinian per capita GNP has fallen by more than 35 percent, unemployment has doubled to 42 percent, and annual trade deficits total almost $300 million.
Repeated closures of the border that separates Israel from both the West Bank and Gaza Strip, because of violence, have contributed to the Palestinians’ economic woes.