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Arab States Have Modified View on Israel, American Group Says

A delegation of the American Jewish Congress this week reported a “profound change” in the attitudes toward Israel after meetings with leaders of Arab countries and Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat.

In the wake of the declaration of principles signed by Israel and the PLO in Washington, there appears to be a “deep and abiding commitment to help move the peace process forward,” said Robert Lifton, president of AJCongress.

A top-level Jordanian official said, “We no longer want to throw Israel in the sea, we want to swim with” it, reported Henry Siegman, executive director of the AJCongress.

While the Jewish leaders secured no commitments to end the Arab boycott against Israel, they were confident they impressed upon their hosts that the boycott is an impediment to the successful development of the nascent Palestinian economy.

The delegation called a news conference here to report on its meetings in Egypt with President Hosni Mubarak and Arafat; in Saudi Arabia with the foreign minister, Prince Saud Faisal, and other Saudi leaders, including the minister of Islamic affairs; and in Jordan with King Hussein and Crown Prince Hassan.

The group was accorded “remarkable access,” Siegman said.

INVESTMENT IMPEDED BY BOYCOTT

At Mubarak’s invitation, Arafat flew from Tunis to meet the delegates, who included business leaders.

They told Arafat that it is urgent that the Palestinians start to pull together an infrastructure to deal with the money coming into the Gaza Strip and the West Bank town of Jericho, where autonomy will be implemented first.

The investment is needed to raise the standard of living quickly for the Palestinians “on the ground, so everyone has a stake in the process,” Lifton said.

But such investment, at least from the U.S. private sector, is impeded by the Arab boycott, the group emphasized.

“No American CEO will take the risk,” and “no corporate counsel in America” will advise a client to get involved in a venture that would risk violating U.S. anti-boycott laws, said Lifton.

Mubarak was “visibly moved,” he said, when the impact of the secondary boycott against Israel was explained. “They thought the American Jewish community would rush in with all (their) money to support the process and they were shocked to find (American business leaders) say that’s not going to happen.”

The group conveyed the message that “the Israeli public has had a lot to swallow” with the PLO accord and that it is essential that the Arab world show some reciprocity, Lifton said.

But, Siegman said, the Arab leaders indicated that the absence of any formal peace agreement with Syria inhibits them from taking more formal steps toward normalization with Israel.

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