Spanish crusade in the Middle East: Business delegation in Israel looks for investment potential in the occupied territories

THE 100-strong entourage that arrived in Israel with the King and Queen of Spain this week did not comprise mere courtiers. Most were senior Spanish bankers and businessmen, part of a crusade to exploit opportunities in the Gaza Strip, Jericho and any other occupied Arab territory that Israel may yet cede.

This week's visit by King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia is seen in Spain as historic in more ways than one. Apart from setting the seal on a new friendship with Israel half a millennium after his ancestors expelled all Jews from Spain, the monarch is viewed as the spearhead of an important investment thrust in the Middle East.

The Spanish delegation read like a who's who of bankers and business chiefs, led by Jose Maria Cuevas, head of the Employers' Federation, and Guillermo de la Dehesa, chairman of the Spanish Chambers of Commerce. They want to beat the rest of the world to the investment potential of the territories from which Israel will withdraw under the September peace agreement.

The Spaniards are interested in building factories, roads, houses and schools, as well as developing other infrastructure projects such as telecommunications, according to industrial sources. In addition to Gaza and Jericho, the delegates see the area as a potential base for involvement in other Arab markets.

If the king was the spearhead, an advance party had already been sent out 10 days earlier when one of Spain's leading bankers, Mario Conde, head of Banco Espanol de Credito (Banesto), took the spotlight at the Jerusalem Business Conference. Mr Conde and his friend Shlomo Ben Ami, former Israeli ambassador to Spain, were the driving forces behind a new development consortium, unofficially known as Salam 2,000, to finance development projects in the newly autonomous Palestinian territories.

Banesto, Koor Industries of Israel, the Moroccan holding company Omnium-Nord-Africain (ONA), and a group of Palestinian businessmen headed by Jaweed al- Ghussein agreed to put up dollars 15m each as initial capital and said they hoped to raise up to dollars 150m more from US investors.

Mr al-Ghussein, head of the Palestine National Fund, is the father of Mona Bauwens, whose friendship with David Mellor was one of the factors in the former Heritage Secretary's resignation from the Cabinet.

Mr Conde and other Spanish bankers and businessmen have been on the inside track of potential investment since Spain hosted Middle East peace talks two years ago.

'An enormous market is opening up before us if we are capable of taking heed of it and engaging in it,' Mr Conde wrote recently. Without any hint of irony, he cited 'our historic ties with Arabs and Jews' as the reason why Spain should be at the forefront of Middle East peace and reconstruction efforts. The fact that King Juan Carlos's ancestors drove the Moors from Europe and expelled all Jews at around the same time now seems forgotten.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

SThree: Graduate Recruitment Resourcer

£20000 per annum + commission: SThree: Sthree have an exciting opportunity for...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive - OTE £32,000+

£18000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Telesales Executive is requir...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager - B2B, Corporate - City, London

£45000 - £50000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Neil Pavier: Commercial Analyst

£50,000 - £55,000: Neil Pavier: Are you a professionally qualified commercial ...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
11 best bedside tables

11 best bedside tables

It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
Italy vs England player ratings: Did Andros Townsend's goal see him beat Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney to top marks?

Italy vs England player ratings

Did Townsend's goal see him beat Kane and Rooney to top marks?
Danny Higginbotham: An underdog's tale of making the most of it

An underdog's tale of making the most of it

Danny Higginbotham on being let go by Manchester United, annoying Gordon Strachan, utilising his talents to the full at Stoke and plunging into the world of analysis
Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police

Steve Bunce: Inside Boxing

Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat