Building an International Organization for Public-Private Cooperation

Missed Opportunity

What happened in Davos between Peres and Arafat was the biggest disappointment that he experienced at any Annual Meeting, Schwab said.


After the efforts by President Bill Clinton in Camp David in 2000 to advance the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, a new attempt to bring the parties back to the table was made at the Taba conference in January 2001. It was widely thought that, after the conclusion of the technical discussions, an agreement might be carried through to Davos and then endorsed by Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat and Shimon Peres, who at that time was Israel’s Minister of Regional Cooperation.

A session in Davos with the two leaders took place on 28 January, one day after the end of the Taba talk and just nine days ahead of general elections in Israel. It was clear that the outcome of this plenary would have a substantial bearing on whether Prime Minister Ehud Barak would be re-elected. Expectations were high and the session was broadcast live.

Amre Moussa, at that time Minister of Foreign Affairs of Egypt, also sat on the panel, while UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan joined the audience to witness this special moment, which could have been truly historic. Klaus Schwab, who had painstakingly prepared the procedures for the session, was the chair. It had been agreed with both parties that the session would take place in a very constructive, reconciliatory spirit – the Spirit of Davos – and that Arafat would speak first, followed by Peres and then Moussa.

Just as the session started, Arafat told Schwab that, contrary to what had been originally arranged, he would prefer to speak second. Schwab asked Peres to open the session, which he did in a positive way. Then it was Arafat’s turn. The Palestinian leader proceeded to deliver an aggressive attack on Israel, leaving the Davos audience stunned and destroying any hope for a peace agreement. On 6 February, Barak lost the election and hardliner Ariel Sharon came to power.

In the wake of the major earthquake in Gujarat, India that occurred during the week of the Annual Meeting, the World Economic Forum created the Disaster Resource Network (DRN), a multi-sector effort to prevent and mitigate human suffering associated with disasters. Since its launch, the DRN has played an important role in international relief efforts after disasters.

On 11 September 2001, the world was shocked by the devastating terrorist attacks on the twin towers of the World Trade Center using two hijacked planes, as well as the crashing of a jet into the Pentagon in Washington DC and into the ground in Pennsylvania.

Two months after 9/11, the Forum decided to relocate the 2002 Annual Meeting from Davos to New York to show solidarity with the city and Americans. This decision not only tested the adaptability and flexibility of the Forum staff to a maximum, but also required many participants to overcome their reluctance to travel. Schwab pushed for the move, having been himself in New York on 9/11 with Hilde. He recalled: “We will never forget the atmosphere that reigned after the attacks: on the one hand a strong mixture of ghostly surrealism, and on the other hand there were so many sparks showing New York’s vitality.”

The final decision to relocate the Annual Meeting was taken in November when Schwab arrived back in New York with the first Concorde plane to land again at Kennedy Airport after 9/11. New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani welcomed him at JFK and brought him to Ground Zero. Smoke still rose from the rubble and debris. Giuliani then received Schwab as his last official visitor in the Mayor’s mansion before handing over his office to successor Michael Bloomberg, who in turn received Schwab as his first official visitor. During a luncheon at the New York Stock Exchange, Schwab announced the decision to relocate the Annual Meeting to thunderous applause from the city’s leaders.