Arab boycott largely reduced to 'lip service'

Some Arab ports won't accept Israeli goods but if you send them through other countries the deal is done.

By
February 28, 2006 06:19
2 minute read.
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The Arab boycott, established by the Arab League in 1951 as an economic tool to hurt Israel, is a dying animal. Ask Aramex. The company, which provides delivery services around the world, is commonly used by Arab and Israeli companies who want to exchange goods without upsetting any Arab port officials. The company provides customers with US mailing addresses where Israeli products can be sent. It then exchanges the Israeli postalstamped packaging for a US-stamped package and sends it on to its Arab destination. So while some Arab ports will not accept goods marked "Made in Israel," if you take off the sticker and send it through another country, the deal is done. "Besides Syria, the Arab boycott is now just lip service," said Doron Peskin, head of research at InfoProd, a consulting firm for foreign and Israeli companies specializing in trade to Arab states. In its heyday, the Damascus headquarters of the Office of the Arab Boycott (OAB) blacklisted 8,500 foreign companies for buying products from Israeli companies, stopping in Haifa port, having a branch in Israel, or any other number of moves which Israel could benefit from economically. The OAB went even further: the secondary boycott prohibited foreign firms from operating in Arab States if they had trade or commercial dealings with Israel, and the tertiary boycott prohibited foreign firms from acquiring technology from, and establishing partnerships or joint ventures with blacklisted foreign companies. Today, however, even the most hardline Arab countries are officially dropping the official primary level of the boycott to join trade organizations and agreements. The most significant "fall" was of Saudi Arabia, which agreed last September to drop the primary boycott of Israel to join the WTO. On Sunday December 11, the world's biggest oil exporter will become the 149th WTO member. Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates are also WTO members. "Today the Arab boycott is all bark and no bite," said Danny Halperin, who founded and headed the Israeli Authority Against Economic Warfare (IAAEW). "We succeeded." The IAAEW worked closely with the Foreign Ministry to get the US to pass a bill to make it illegal for US companies to cooperate with the boycott. In 1977 President Jimmy Carter signed the anti-Arab boycott bill, marking the dramatic beginning to the boycott's end. Various historical events weakened the boycott further. Egypt made peace with Israel in 1978. In 1991, Kuwait agreed to rescind its secondary and tertiary boycotts after the US freed it from Iraqi occupation. The 1993 Oslo Accords were the nail in the boycott's coffin. The Arabs said they would not compromise until a full landfor-peace settlement was reached between the Israelis and the Palestinians, but they partially rescinded the boycott anyway. In 1996 the OAB stopped convening. Today, trade between the Jewish state and the Arab world remains "undercover," but goes on regularly. (The products cannot be identified as Israeli or they may end up back on the ship.). Yet while few Muslim states (Syria, Lebanon and Iran) remain hard-core adherents to the ban, the Arab consumer as a whole remains loyal to it and Arab businessmen say that only a comprehensive peace process will change that. Peskin said it's a "psychological" barrier. "We didn't get to the point where a consumer in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Kuwait will feel comfortable opening and using product labeled 'Made in Israel.'"

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