Israelis, Palestinians Meet in Davos to Discuss Region's Future

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DAVOS, Switzerland - After several years of avoiding public discussions, members of Israel's government and the Palestinian Authority agreed to participate in a joint public debate on the future of the relations between the two people.

The debate in Davos on Friday was attended by Vice Premier Shimon Peres, Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom and Deputy Prime Minister and Industry and Trade Minister Ehud Olmert. The Palestinians were represented by Finance Minister Salam Fayad and Economy Minister Maher al-Masri, as well as Yasser Abed Rabbo.

Despite the friendly atmosphere, the wide gap between the visions of the future could not be disguised.

While Israel continues to consider the disengagement from Gaza as mainly a unilateral move, it was ready to expand the security and economic coordination with the Palestinians.

The Palestinians would like to see the renewal of a bilateral political process, which would lead to an agreement and an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank, as well.

"It is always better to do things out of agreement. But most important is to carry them out, not to talk," Olmert said.

"As soon as the disengagement [plan] is completed, even if it is just a beginning, it will have a dramatic effect on lives and other aspects would follow," he added.

The Palestinian delegates at the debate emphasized the need to make the disengagement plan a first step in a full political process based on the Quartet's road map, leading to a peace agreement between the two nations.

"We should make an effort to end the occupation not only in Gaza, but in the West Bank, as well," Fayad said.

"The key should be creating hope and an ability to pull the disengagement into a final [peace] agreement. We need a complete mutual halt to violence, an end to occupation and to give special attention to economic development."