U.S. Calls Progress Disappointing in Combatting Arab Boycott of Israel

The Clinton administration said that progress in combatting Arab countries’ adherence to the economic boycott of Israel has been “disappointingly slow,” following the release of a boycott compliance report this week.

The quarterly report, released Friday by the U.S. Commerce Department, found that Arab countries honoring the boycott of Israel continue to violate U.S. anti-boycott laws at the same rate as last year.

“The United States will keep doing all it can to persuade the Arab League countries to discontinue their boycott,” John Despres, assistant secretary of commerce for export enforcement, said in a statement Friday. “So far that progress has been disappointingly slow,” the statement read.

The Clinton administration and Jewish groups had hoped that boycott compliance would greatly diminish following the signing of the historic Israeli- Palestinian peace accord last September.

Reports since then, however, have continually indicated that the boycott is as strong as ever. The boycott, which began before the formation of Israel in 1948, calls for Arab countries not to engage in trade with Israel. The secondary boycott calls for Arab countries not to do business with U.S. and international companies that do business with Israel.

It is compliance with this secondary boycott that the United States monitors closely. The Commerce Department report indicates how many requests were made to American companies for actions that are prohibited under U.S. anti-boycott laws.

The Commerce Department’s last boycott report, issued in December, showed a sharp increase in such requests, to the shock of Jewish groups.

The increase, however, was attributed to new language used by Saudi Arabia in certain bank documents. The controversial language has since been deleted, thus bringing reported boycott activity down. In the first quarter of this year, 813 requests were made, down from 965 in the last quarter of 1993.

President Clinton and Congress have each strongly urged the Arab League to end the boycott. Both houses of Congress passed legislation in November calling for the organization to end the boycott. And Commerce Secretary Ron Brown received personal assurances from an Arab official in January that the Arab League would discuss an end to the boycott at its March meeting. These assurances went unfulfilled, to the dismay of the administration.

Despite the indication by some Arab governments that they are willing to at least partially heed U.S. demands, the boycott continues.

In New York, Will Maslow, editor of the American Jewish Congress’s Boycott Report, predicted that once the Palestinians and Israelis begin implementing the autonomy agreement signed last fall, some Arab countries will begin to disregard the boycott.

Meanwhile, he said, the United States must continue to pressure Arab countries with which it has good relations, such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, to terminate boycott activity.

In a related development, the Commerce Department reported Friday that it had cited four companies for violations of U.S. anti-boycott laws. The companies – Arab Bank PLC of New York; Boaleeco, a Massachusetts manufacturer and exporter of educational equipment; and two subsidiaries of Honeywell Inc. – allegedly furnished Arab countries with information on their business relationship with firms on the boycott blacklist. The four companies agreed to pay assessed penalties under the Export Administration Act without admitting or denying the charges.

Arab Bank PLC agreed to pay $31,200; Boaleeco agreed to pay $10,000; and the Honeywell subsidiaries were fined $2,000 each. The Commerce Department’s Office of Antiboycott Compliance imposed a total of $6,805,450 in penalties in fiscal year 1993.

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