Thirteen Arab countries, with the notable absence of Egypt, Jordan, Morocco and a handful of Gulf states, met Monday, July 30, for the second day to bolster the Muslim world's economic boycott of Israel.
"We want to reactivate the boycott so that it constitutes an instrument of peaceful resistance with the aim of pushing Israel back to reason," said Ahmad Khazaa, head of the Arab League's central boycott office.
Against the backdrop of the 10-month Palestinian uprising, the first large-scale gathering of the Damascus-based Central Office for the Boycott of Israel (OBI) in eight years studied a plan to reopen boycott offices in all 22 members states of the Arab League.
The blueprint also calls for blacklists of Israeli firms and foreign companies doing business with the Jewish state to be published every six months and for fresh boycott meetings to be held twice a year.
"There is total agreement. There are not any problems," Khazaa told reporters, although the committee failed again to attain a full two-thirds quorum necessary to hold an executive meeting for the first time since 1993.
He added that the participants had "brought unanimous support" for the committee's proposed measures, which will be submitted to the Arab League's head offices in Cairo. Khazaa said on the first day of the conference on Sunday that a revitalized boycott could cost Israel an estimated three billion dollars per year.
But while 13 Arab member states attended the conference, Egypt and Jordan, the only two countries with peace agreements with Israel, stayed away. Others who failed to show were Qatar and Oman, which both hosted Israeli trade missions until the outbreak of the Palestinian uprising last fall, and Morocco and Mauritania, which has diplomatic relations with Israel.
Besides Syria and the Palestinian Authority, 11 countries attended the meeting: Algeria, Iraq, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates and Yemen.
A Gulf state delegate said the boycott would definitely affect foreign companies doing business with Israel. "We must take into consideration the nature of activities of these companies, to know if they sell to Israeli or even if they invest there as well," said the official, who requested not to be named.
Nonetheless, he expressed doubt Arab countries would expel restaurant franchises like McDonald's or hotel chains like Sheraton over their business dealings with Israel. But the boycott would "seal off the important breaches" and "prevent Israeli infiltration of the Arab world," he explained.
The boycott office was established in 1951 and used to publish every six months a blacklist of Israeli businesses and foreign firms trading with the state. After the 1991 Gulf War and the launch of the Middle East peace process, most of the Arab countries yielded to US pressure and lifted the boycott of third party companies dealing with Israel, but not on Israeli companies.
The easing of the boycott allowed firms, such as soft drinks giant Coca-Cola and the automobile firm Ford Motor Company, to gain a foothold in Arab markets. The reactivation of the OBI was discussed at the March 27-28 Arab summit in Amman at the request of Syria, which is pushing for a tougher stance against hardline Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
However, efforts to hold an executive meeting of the OBI have failed since then because of the quorum rule, which requires the attendance of two-thirds of the chiefs of all Arab states' boycott offices.
The two-day meeting did not require a quorum since it was only a gathering of experts from Arab League states reviewing the revival of the boycott. ― (AFP, Damascus)
by Maher Chmaytelli
© Agence France Presse 2001
© 2001 Mena Report (www.menareport.com )