In the course of his visits to Israel and to the Palestinian Authority last week, US President George W. Bush said he believed the two sides could reach a peace agreement within a year and hoped it could be done while he was still in office. Among the Israelis with whom he had private conversations were President Shimon Peres, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and opposition leader Binyamin Netanyahu. Addressing the Geneva Initiative conference at the Daniel Hotel in Herzliya on Sunday, Peres warned there was actually less than a year in which to negotiate. This was so because the US elections would be held in November the Palestinian elections in January 2009 with no certainty that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas will run for re-election, and there were moves afoot to bring forward the elections in Israel, all of which meant that all the key players could change within the next year. For this reason, said Peres, "time is of the essence." Intensive political negotiations must be conducted both secretly and openly while concurrently engaging in a major, energetic effort to develop the Palestinian economy and to improve the Palestinians' standard of living. While still a government minister, Peres initiated the idea of a peace valley with industrial parks in Jericho, Jenin and the Hebron area. Responsibility for these parks has already been undertaken by Japan, Germany and Turkey, but no government minister has yet been appointed in Peres's stead to run with the ball. Thus six months after taking office, Peres remains the key advocate for an economic solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Improving the quality of life of the Palestinians by providing 50,000 jobs, he said, will give them much more empowerment than providing them with 10,000 guns. Even though withdrawal from Gaza was a correct step, said Peres, Israel, basing its attitude on the Gaza experience, is somewhat apprehensive about dealing with the West Bank as it did with Gaza. This, too, was a salient factor in the need to strengthen the Palestinian economy.