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Boycott Could Hurt Palestinians, U.S. Official Warns Arab Gathering

The continuing Arab economic boycott of Israel could end up hurting the Palestinians as much or more than it hurts the Israelis, a high-level Clinton administration official has warned an Arab American group.

Dennis Ross, the State Department’s coordinator for the Middle East peace process, told the annual convention of the National Association of Arab Americans last Friday that the boycott must end.

“We’re at a point where Israelis and Palestinians are now talking about real economic cooperation, not just coordination,” said Ross, who recently returned from a shuttle mission to the Middle East.

“At a time when Palestinians and Israelis are working together to mutual economic benefit, it is ironic that the boycott will end up punishing the Palestinians as much if not more than it punishes the Israelis,” he said.

The administration has been working to encourage private American investment in the West Bank and Gaza Strip as the Israeli-Palestinian accord on autonomy is implemented.

Ross told the assembled members of the important Arab-American lobbying group that such investment would be hurt by the continuation of the boycott.

“The boycott is against American law, and at a time when we are seeing American businesses and private American initiatives increasingly demonstrated,” he said, “the boycott is going to be an impediment to that. We don’t need it, and it needs to be removed.”

Ross also spoke of the “mutual commitment to trying to find an agreement” that he saw in both Israel and Syria on his recent trip.

Negotiations between Israel and Syria have been stalled over definitions of peace and territorial compromise, and the United States has been pushing the parties to make progress.

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The State Department official also spoke of the importance of building an “environment” conducive to Middle East peace.

He noted some “positive signs in terms of Arab outreach to the Israelis” since the Israeli-Palestinian agreement, including the recent announcement by the foreign minister of Qatar that he had met with Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres.

Recent Israeli reports that were not denied by the Israeli government said that an Israeli official had been in Qatar for discussions with the Qatari Foreign Ministry.

There were rumors that during the recent United Nations General Assembly session in New York, Peres met with his Qatari counterpart.

Also speaking out against the boycott at the Arab group’s convention last Friday was Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), chairman of the powerful Senate Appropriations subcommittee on foreign operations, which appropriates foreign aid money.

Leahy told members of the group that Arab states’ refusal to end the boycott would have an “adverse effect on Capitol Hill,” where many lawmakers are still wary of the Palestine Liberation Organization.

In a related development, 50 senators wrote to President Clinton last week urging the administration to condition further U.S. assistance to the West Bank and Gaza on a lifting of the boycott.

The letter was organized by Sens. Connie Mack (R-Fla.) and Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.).

In addition, the International Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists wrote to Clinton urging that U.S. aid to the PLO be withheld until it and the Arab League renounce the secondary boycott of companies doing business with Israel.

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