saudi king 298 .
(photo credit: AP)
Saudi Arabia's decision to lift its boycott against Israel was adopted after a strong ultimatum from the US: Any bilateral trade agreement would depend on a Saudi renunciation of the Arab embargo against Israel.
Saudi officials first agreed to lift the boycott last September. The resulting trade agreement was the last barrier to Saudi Arabia's entry into the World Trade Organization (WTO).
The issue of the Saudi boycott was raised, according to sources in the US, in the meeting this week between Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Saudi King Abdullah.
Pro-Israel activists on Capitol Hill point out that the Saudi agreement signed with the US falls short of explicitly committing the Saudis to give up the primary and secondary Arab boycott of Israel. The primary boycott forbids countries from having direct trade relations with Israel, and the secondary one prohibits trade with international companies that conduct business with Israel.
According to sources close to the issue, the Saudis had announced publicly that they would not boycott Israel any longer, but they did not sign any formal document that dealt explicitly with the boycott - apart from a general declaration regarding their commitment to obey the rules of the WTO. Pro-Israel activists were lobbying the administration and Congress for a written statement, similar to the letter signed by Bahrain's government this year. Eventually, though, the parliament in Bahrain did not approve lifting the boycott.
The Saudi accession to the WTO provided the administration with the leverage it needed.
"This move by Saudi Arabia undercuts any country that still retains any element of the boycott," said Edward Walker, who served as assistant secretary of state for the Near East in the Clinton and Bush administrations. Walker, now president of the Middle East Institute in Washington, points out that after Saudi Arabia had given up the boycott, other Arab countries might follow.
The strongest supporter of the Arab boycott at present is Syria, which also hosts the offices in charge of the embargo. Most other Arab states are in the process of easing the boycott, mainly due to American and European pressure.