Though Arab Boycott Continues, U.S. Sees Some Positive Signals

The United States has not succeeded yet in dismantling the Arab economic boycott against Israel, but it sees some encouraging signs from countries that adhere to it.

Testifying Thursday on Capitol Hill, Secretary of State Warren Christopher said the recent decision by some boycotting countries not to attend a scheduled meeting in Damascus on the boycott demonstrated some “hesitation” on their part.

The secretary told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that this “very interesting development” could indicate a “hesitation on the part of a number of the countries, especially in the (Persian) Gulf, with respect to the pursuance of the boycott.”

It may signal that “they’re not prepared to discuss any expansion of the boycott,” he told the panel, in response to a boycott-related question from Sen. Harris Wofford (D-Pa.).

Ending the Arab boycott, which affects both Israel and companies doing business with the Jewish state, has become a pressing issue here, especially in the wake of the Israeli-Palestinian accord.

In a climate where both the Palestinians and Jordan are entering into economic relations with Israel, the boycott is viewed by U.S. officials as increasingly anachronistic.

Christopher said Thursday that while many Arab countries have not made “formal statements” indicating they will lift the boycott, many have been lifting the secondary and tertiary boycotts of companies doing business with Israel “in practice.”

Echoing a theme stressed in recent days by the Clinton administration, Christopher said that the Palestinians, whom the boycott was initially supposed to help, would suffer from its continuation.

“One of the arguments that we’re making that I think is really hitting home,” he said, “is the argument that the boycott at the present time is likely to hurt the Palestinians because of their joint activities with the Israelis.”

On the other hand, as Sen. Wofford pointed out in his question, U.S. government figures show that Saudi Arabia’s requests to U.S. companies for boycott-related information actually went up in recent months.

Christopher told the panel he was “impatient” with the continuation of the boycott.

In a related development, members of Congress introduced legislation Thursday urging the Arab League to lift the boycott, both the aspect affecting Israel and that affecting companies doing business with the Jewish state.

The resolution was introduced in the House of Representatives by Rep. Peter Deutsch (D-Fla.) and in the Senate by Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.).

The resolution says that the boycott has a negative impact on the Middle East peace process.

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