At the Opening of the World Economic Forum on the Middle East
Dead Sea, Jordan
18 May 2007
This is our year of opportunity. Opportunity to end violence; opportunity to make peace; opportunity to build the regional economic power-house of tomorrow.
That future begins here and now: with the leadership vision and proven capability assembled in this room and with the action that can be catalyzed by your dialogue and partnership.
Professor Schwab, I am honoured to welcome the Forum back to Jordan. And to all of you, accept my warmest welcome. It is a pleasure to join you for this important meeting. It comes at a decisive time.
As you know, the Arab countries are engaged in a major effort to achieve a just settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict. In late March, the Arab Peace Initiative was renewed unanimously by the Arab countries. There is an historic opportunity to achieve a just, comprehensive and lasting settlement, and achieve it now; this year; before any more generations suffer; before any more destruction takes place.
For Palestinians, there can be no more delay. The absence of peace and the conditions of occupation have devastated Palestinian life. Three of every five job-seekers cannot find employment. Hundreds of thousands of families are living in misery, sustained only by humanitarian aid. This suffocating situation has brought poverty, malnutrition, frustration and radicalisation.
When a farmer gives up on growing produce he cannot sell, when business owners shut factories because supply chains are broken, financing is frozen, and too few customers can afford to buy, when children quit school early because they see no future ahead - it is our duty to act.
We, in Jordan, are doing all we can to build the momentum for peace. We know success is not, and will not be, easy. But we also know peace is attainable. Israelis and Palestinians, from all walks of life, tell us they need and want an end to violence. There is a new international will to resolve the crisis; it is no longer just a regional problem. And it is in the interest of this entire region - and indeed, the world - that we succeed.As we look to that day, we need to begin asking a new question:
- What about the day after peace?
- Will we be ready? Will we have the plans in place to realise the benefits of peace and build on them?
- Will we have the vision to see our region's potential and act on it?
Three hundred and twenty-five million people live in the Arab world. Ours is a region larger than Europe, larger than Canada, larger than China, larger than the United States. The benefits and standards of living that these regions enjoy, can and must belong to the people of the Middle East.
China, India, and other countries that were poor 20 years ago, made tough decisions to move forward, embracing private-sector development and globalisation. Their courage brought rapid growth that is reducing poverty and creating opportunity. We are able, if we choose, to match and even surpass their gains.
Young people, especially, need us to do so. Youth are the largest age group in our region, with more than 200 million under the age of 24. These young men and women deserve to be part of a prospering region that is playing its rightful role on the world stage. I'm talking about every advantage that the 21st century can provide - a good education; fulfilling work; security to raise their families; and more.
Meeting their expectations is our greatest calling, and our generation is rising to this challenge.
The fact is that periods of prosperity provide important opportunities for advancing reforms, facilitating investments in infrastructure, as well as innovative solutions to some of our region's most urgent challenges.
One critical challenge is water. From the snowy peaks of the Atlas Mountains to the empty quarter of the Arabian Peninsula, most of our region's countries cannot meet the current water demand. As a region, if we do not plan how we will meet this most basic need, if we do not commit the necessary investment to resolve this problem, we will not be fighting for peace. We will be fighting for our lives.
We need to rise to this challenge, and I believe we can.
The environment is another pressing challenge. When fossil fuel was discovered over a century ago, there were only about one billion people in the world. There are now more than 6 billion, and fossil fuel is key to life on every continent. As a region endowed with energy resources in abundance, we must lead the way in discovering how to make those resources last longer and burn cleaner.
A third key challenge is infrastructure. If this region is to be a strong economic bloc, with greater industry competitiveness, a growing private sector, and sustainable job opportunities, then, a strong, efficient transport and logistics system is a strategic necessity.
Consider just the regional context. It is estimated that by 2020, 70 percent of the region's population will be urban. What plans must we make, what infrastructure investments are needed to service this urban development?
These are great opportunities, and they are open for your leadership, right now.
The time has come to stop thinking about peace as an end; an end to conflict, but as a beginning, a beginning of sweeping new opportunities and benefits for the people of this region. An era that will free human and financial resources for region-wide achievement and prosperity. An era that will open new, cross-border opportunities that multiply the benefits of development and investment.
But if we are going to take advantage of that potential; if we are going to sustain the peace and build on it, then, we need to ask that question:
what about the day after peace?
It begins with leaders like you. Men and women who possess the ability to see a brilliant future. Leaders with the courage and determination to make that future a reality.
Imagine for a moment:
- A region powered by 22 strong, growing economies, and energised by a thriving private sector, a highly skilled workforce, and region-wide cooperation;
- A region that welcomes every young person to adulthood with a good job, and a lifetime of new opportunities;
- A region with ample, clean water in every home, and a healthy environment that protects its people and its natural heritage;
- A region that competes at the top of the global marketplace, bringing the benefits of prosperity back to every neighbourhood and family;
- a region that takes its rightful, proud position in the 21st Century, shaping the civilisation and progress of all humanity.
We, all of us here, have the power to make this vision a reality. Let us not put the future on hold, waiting for papers to be signed and the ink to dry, or hoping other countries will help. We, as an entire region, must create the future we choose to have.
That future starts here, with this extraordinary gathering of leaders from across our region. It is you who can bring our future the initiative and inspiration it needs, at every level. It is you who can think large, keep the focus on results, and dare to achieve them. It is you who can transform hopes into realities.
So today, I urge you to start the dialogue, a dialogue of action, that can inspire and lead our region forward. I urge you to ask yourselves: what about the day after peace? And I urge you to help find the answers our people so urgently need.
Thank you very much.