Shimon Peres - Reuters
President Shimon Peres. Photo by Reuters
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Hundreds of world leaders, government officials and businessmen will descend upon Tel Aviv next week for an international conference aimed at boosting Israel’s cooperation with the Palestinians and other members of the Arab world.

The International Conference for Economic Regional Cooperation, hosted by Vice Prime Minister Silvan Shalom and sponsored by the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, has drawn such names as President Shimon Peres, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Bank of Israel Governor Stanley Fischer, and European Union Ambassador Andrew Stanley. Palestinian officials have also been invited.

"Regional cooperation is not a luxury but rather an existential necessity for everyone's future,” Shalom said in a statement to announce the conference. “Over the last year, especially during this sensitive time, there is great importance in dialogue aimed at strengthening the economic and business ties between Israel and other countries."

Tony Blair, the former British Prime Minister and now Middle East Quartet’s Special Envoy, will receive an award to express Israel’s appreciation for his efforts toward Middle East peace.

Speakers will include Barak, Fischer, Opposition Leader Tzipi Livni and Peres.

Valerie Hoffenberg, French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s special envoy to the Middle East stressed the importance of regional cooperation in the Middle East in a meeting with Shalom on Tuesday, commending Israel for “its desire to improve relations with its neighbors,” AFP reported.

The French envoy stressed the importance of bilateral negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, the report said, saying “only coordination with Israel will bring about a return to bilateral negotiations.”

She openly opposed the Palestinians’ upcoming bid to the UN for statehood in September, calling on them to reconsider their decision.

Shalom added that the pending UN vote will definitely impact the conference and the tone of discussions. One of the sessions at the conference will focus on the Arab Spring and recent political developments in the region, highlighting the economic, political and diplomatic ramifications of recent events as well as their implications for both Israel and the entire region.

The Ministry of Regional Cooperation has sponsored several initiatives to improve Israel’s regional standing, including its “Peace Carrier” (water canal) project, a joint international project between Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority. The project’s goal is to preserve and raise the water levels of the Dead Sea, supply desalinated water to the region, aid the development of agricultural and tourist sectors and maintain regional stability.

The Ministry is currently monitoring the conclusions of the preparatory examinations for the project, which are being carried out by the World Bank, whose findings will be published at the end of 2011.