NEW YORK (Mar. 1)
Despite a direct request from U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher, Kuwait reportedly has refused to drop its boycott of companies doing business with Israel.
The Wall Street Journal reported last week that the emir of Kuwait, Sheik Jaber al-Sabah, was not responsive to requests to lift the boycott made by Christopher, who was in Kuwait as part of his first trip to the Middle East.
David Harris, executive vice president of the American Jewish Committee, said in a statement that the emir’s refusal is “both an insult to (Kuwait’s) ally liberator and friend, the United States, and counterproductive to the achievement of peace in the troubled Middle East.”
Following the Persian Gulf War, Kuwait had pledged to repeal the laws institutionalizing the Arab League’s secondary blacklist of foreign companies that invest in Israel, purchase Israeli products or have owners with “Zionist convictions.”
Evidence that Kuwait has not kept its pledge is contained in figures compiled by the U.S. Commerce Department, which tallies requests made of American companies to provide information regarding their dealings with Israel.
Under U.S. anti-boycott legislation, American firms must report all such requests for information to the Commerce Department.
In fiscal year 1992, more of those requests were received from Kuwait than from any other Arab country.
INFORMAL AGREEMENT NOT TO ENFORCE BOYCOTT
The anti-boycott laws bar American firms from responding to most requests for information on such subjects as whether they have business dealings with Israel.
Because the Arab boycott requires such questions to be answered, any American company complying with American law would be virtually unable to enter the markets of an Arab country applying the boycott strictly.
But according to the American Jewish Congress, Kuwait is in fact not rigorously enforcing the boycott, despite drafting its contracts and purchase orders in accordance with it.
Will Maslow, general counsel for AJCongress and editor of its Boycott Report newsletter, said he had been informed by a State Department official that an informal agreement has been worked out among the six Arab Gulf states: Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates.
“In actual practice, if a commercial firm seeks to bid on a contract, (the Gulf states) tell them to disregard the clauses pertaining to the boycott,” said Maslow.
“They are accommodating themselves to American and other pressure by not enforcing it against American and other firms,” said Maslow He added that the Kuwaitis have countervailing, anti-Israel pressure from Moslem fundamentalists.
According to Maslow, the State Department official said that the Gulf states are anxious not to publicize this arrangement.
Writing in the most recent issue of Boycott Report, Maslow said, “This arrangement, while a step forward, still is not satisfactory to the anti-boycott movement.”
Jess Hordes, director of the Anti-Defamation League’s Washington office, suggested that the apparent willingness of the Clinton administration to publicize its dispute with Kuwait over this issue would indicate that this arrangement is not fully satisfactory to the United States either.
Maslow said he could not point to any specific firms that have won contracts with Kuwait in apparent contravention of the boycott.
And other observers say that immediately after the Gulf war, Kuwait did indeed drop the boycott.
“Many contracts coming out of the Kuwaiti reconstruction office in Washington D.C. were completely devoid of boycott terms,” said Joe Kamalick, editor and publisher of the Boycott Law Bulletin.
But by February 1992, a year after the liberation of Kuwait, “Kuwaiti contracts, and especially letters of credit, were beginning again to contain the same kind of boycott provisions characteristic of the years before the Gulf war,” said Kamalick.
Prior to the Gulf war, Kuwait was the most diligent Arab country concerning the boycott, to judge by the number of requests for information filed by American companies.
Hordes said Kuwaiti diligence could be linked to the strong Palestinian presence in Kuwait generally and its boycott office in particular.
But during the Gulf war, the boycott office, like all government offices, was sacked by the Iraqis.
And then, following the liberation, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were expelled from Kuwait for supporting Saddam Hussein.
Perhaps reflecting these factors, as well as its announced suspension of the boycott, only 691 boycott queries were reported from Kuwait in fiscal year 1991, from Oct. 1, 1990 to Sept. 30, 1991, down from 4,677 the previous year.
But the numbers rose again in 1992, to 2,846 requests, compared to 1,568 from Saudi Arabia.