by George Baghdadi
(IPS) DAMASCUS --
of 13 Arab countries, at a meeting here, renewed their commitment to honor an economic blockade against Israel.
At a two-day meeting in the Syrian capital Damascus, they resolved to abide by the rules guiding the Arab world's boycott of Israel, which has slackened since the launching of the Middle East peace process in the early 1990s.
The meeting, which concluded July 30, was organized by the Central Office for the Boycott of Israel, set up 50 years ago by the Arab League with the aim of isolating Israel economically.
The boycott, a highly emotional issue for many Arabs, has come to the fore again after Arab leaders urged at their last summit in Jordan in March that it should remain an official policy, pending a "halt to Israeli aggression against unarmed Palestinians."
"There was a unanimous agreement that we should reactivate the primary boycott and stick to its tough conditions," Ahmed Khazaa, general commissioner of the Central Office for the Boycott, told IPS.
He said Syria's position on the boycott -- both primary (against Israel itself) and secondary or tertiary (against economic supporters) -- was that it should be "tightened more and more because Israel was not showing the least sign of its willingness for a lasting peace in the region through total withdrawal from Arab lands."
The primary boycott requires member states of the Arab League to refrain from doing any business with Israel. Egypt and Jordan, by virtue of their peace treaties with Israel, are exempted.
The secondary boycott embraces commercial companies not party to the dispute. It prohibits non-Arab third parties from trading with Israel. Companies that have a branch, agency, factory or plant in Israel are put on the boycott blacklist, controlled from Damascus.
More than 10,000 companies are believed to be on the list and names continue to be added or struck off.
The so-called tertiary boycott is against companies that deal with blacklisted firms and which, out of fear of being blacklisted, refuse to trade with Israeli companies.
Representatives of Syria, Iraq, the Sudan, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Algeria, Tunisia, Yemen, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Libya and Somalia attended the meeting.
The no-shows were Egypt and Jordan -- the only Arab countries to have signed peace accords with Israel -- and Comoros, Morocco, Qatar, Oman, Mauritania, Bahrain and Djibouti.
Arab boycott is a kind of peaceful weapon that runs in harmony with the rules of international law...It is a tantalizing tool that may push anyone who has rebelled against international legitimacy to go back to the right course," Khazaa said.
"This enemy," he said referring to Israel, "does not recognize international legitimacy and the fundamentals of the peace process, which kicked off in Madrid in 1991, and the land-for-peace principle...The enemy commits daily attacks on the steadfast Palestinian people, who have become a firm militant school based on sacrifice and guided by the slogan: Martyrdom or victory," he told the participants.
Only a few hours before Khazaa made those remarks, Israeli tank fire killed six Palestinians on the Jewish state's "most wanted list" in an attack in the West Bank, raising the toll of the last 10 months of bloodletting to 600 people. Most of them are Palestinians.
The Israeli government describes such killings as a policy to intercept militants involved in attacks against Israelis.
Khazaa said the boycott should always play a "positive role for the interest of the Arab nation's goals."
"This is how we can support the Palestinians until they fulfil their aspirations for the establishment of their independent state on their national soil with holy Jerusalem as its capital, and until the Golan (Heights) and the remaining part of southern Lebanon are liberated from the filth of the occupation," he added.
One source, speaking on condition of anonymity, admitted, however, that participants in the meeting differed on interpretations of the "secondary and tertiary" boycott.
The source explained that Gulf representatives were "emphasizing the need to differentiate between companies investing in Israel's industry and infrastructure and those only selling services." In this context, they cited an American law providing for the punishment of U.S. companies respecting Arab boycott resolutions.
The next regular decision-making meeting of the Central Office for the Boycott is due in October. But the once-influential Damascus office, set up in 1951, has not held one of its semi-annual meetings since 1993, after the Palestinians signed a blueprint peace deal with Israel, for lack of quorum.
Muhammad al-Ajami, head of the host Syrian delegation, stressed that his country "always welcomes every Arab effort on its soil to serve the issues of our Arab nation, led by the issue of liberation and the restoration of the Palestinian people's usurped rights."
Arab diplomats said Syria's view had not changed after the ascension to power of President Bashar Al-Assad last July, who followed in the footsteps of his father, Hafez.
"I think that implementation of the boycott rules against Israel is now badly needed," a Damascus-based Arab diplomat said, charging that the government of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon had "totally killed the peace process."
A Western diplomat, who wanted to remain unnamed, maintained that the Arab boycott as a political weapon had achieved nothing over many years.
In practice, he said, the boycott does not apply to large or strategic companies. "The U.S. authorizes the sale of similar state- of- the- art weapons to Saudi Arabia and Israel and their manufacturers are not blacklisted," he said.
For years, the diplomat said, Coca Cola was on the boycott list and only Pepsi was available in the Arab world. "Now Coca-Cola is made under license in many Arab countries and in fiercely anti-Israeli Iran...Japanese companies, for long wary of entering Israel for fear of jeopardizing their lucrative Arab markets, are now the second largest foreign investors in Israel after the U.S."
August 6, 2001 (http://www.monitor.net/monitor) All Rights Reserved. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to use in any format.
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