Gaza set to dominate Saudi-hosted World Economic Forum

AFP , Sunday 28 Apr 2024

The Israeli war on Gaza and broader Middle East tensions are expected to get top billing at a Saudi-hosted special meeting of the World Economic Forum that begins on Sunday.

A Palestinian child stands near objects salvaged amid the debris of a house destroyed by overnight Israeli bombardment in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on April,2024. AFP


US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Palestinian leaders and high-ranking officials from other countries trying to broker a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas are on the guest list for the summit in Riyadh.

"The world is today walking a tightrope right now, trying to balance security and prosperity," Saudi planning minister Faisal al-Ibrahim told a press conference on Saturday previewing the event.

"We meet at a moment when one misjudgement or one miscalculation or one miscommunication will further exacerbate our challenges."

Borge Brende, president of the World Economic Forum (WEF), told Saturday's press conference there was "some new momentum now in the talks around the captives, and also for... a possible way out of the impasse we are faced with in Gaza".

However there will be no Israeli participation at the summit and Brende noted that formal mediation involving Qatar and Egypt was unfolding elsewhere.

"This is more an opportunity to have structured discussions" with "the key players", he said.

"There will be discussions, of course, on the ongoing humanitarian situation in Gaza" as well as on Iran, he added.

The gathering "has all the prospects for becoming a very consequential meeting."

The US State Department said that Blinken will "discuss ongoing efforts to achieve a ceasefire in Gaza that secures the release of captives," claiming that Hamas is standing between the Palestinian people and a ceasefire," not Israel.

Hopes that mediators could secure a new truce in Gaza before or during the holy month of Ramadan ultimately came to nothing, as Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has consistently rejected a ceasefire that would end the war, saying "total victory in Gaza is possible."

Hamas said it was studying on Saturday the latest Israeli counterproposal regarding a potential ceasefire, a day after media reports said a delegation from mediator Egypt arrived in Israel in a bid to jump-start stalled negotiations.

Saudi Arabia also remains in talks about a landmark deal under which it would recognise Israel for the first time while strengthening its security partnership with the United States.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia's de facto ruler, spoke optimistically about the deal in an interview with Fox News in September, but analysts say the war has made it more difficult.

Hosting international events such as the two-day WEF meeting allows the kingdom to showcase social changes including the reintroduction of cinemas and the lifting of a ban on women driving.

"Eight years into Vision 2030, we have demonstrated our willingness to lead the way towards a model of transformative growth that is innovative, inclusive and sustainable. And we've seen some of the results," Ibrahim said on Saturday.

Yet questions persist about just how much of Vision 2030 will be achieved and when, with special scrutiny falling on signature projects such as NEOM, a planned futuristic megacity.

In December, Finance Minister Mohammed al-Jadaan said officials had decided to push the timeframe for some major projects past 2030, without specifying which ones.

"Certain projects can be expanded for three years -- so it's 2033 -- some will be expanded to 2035, some will be expanded even beyond that and some will be rationalised," he said.


*This story has been edited by AHram Online.

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