Forget normalization - Saudi Arabia steps up boycott of Israel
Saudi Arabia's boycott-related requests of US companies up more than 76%.
By MICHAEL FREUND
Despite efforts by Washington in recent years to bring about a normalization of relations between Israel and the Arab world, Saudi Arabia has been steadily intensifying its enforcement of the Arab League boycott of Israel, The Jerusalem Post has learned.
A review of US Commerce Department data conducted by the Post found that the number of boycott-related and restrictive trade-practice requests received by American companies from Saudi Arabia has increased in each of the past two years, rising from 42 in 2006 to 65 in 2007 to 74 in 2008, signifying a jump of more than 76 percent.
The bulk of these requests were related to the companies' or products' relationship to Israel. Typically, Saudi officials ask foreign suppliers to affirm that any goods exported to the desert kingdom are not manufactured in Israel and do not contain any Israeli-made components.
US law bars American companies from complying with such demands, and requires them to report any boycott-related requests to the federal government.
The Commerce Department figures reflect only those requests that have been officially reported to the US government. Figures for 2009 were not yet available.
Contacted by the Post, a US Treasury Department official confirmed that there was ample evidence that the Saudis continued to enforce the boycott.
According to the official, statistics compiled by a number of US government departments and federal agencies all "indicate that American companies continue to receive boycott requests from Saudi Arabia."
Citing figures collected by the Internal Revenue Service, the official said that of the cases that were reported to the IRS, "55% of the boycott requests from Saudi Arabia led to boycott agreements."
Two months ago, the Treasury Department published a list of eight Arab countries, including Saudi Arabia, that it says continue to boycott Israel. The list appeared in the Federal Register, the official journal of the US government.
Washington has been attempting to get Riyadh to improve relations with the Jewish state, without success.
On July 31, after talks with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal rejected Washington's efforts, telling reporters, "Incrementalism and a step-by-step approach has not and, we believe, will not lead to peace."
Saudi Arabia's ongoing enforcement of the boycott also appears to violate repeated promises that it gave to Washington in recent years to drop the trade embargo.
In November 2005, the desert kingdom pledged to abandon the boycott after Washington conditioned Saudi Arabia's entry into the World Trade Organization on such a move. A month later, on December 11, Saudi Arabia was granted WTO membership.
The WTO, which aims to promote free trade, prohibits members from engaging in discriminatory practices such as boycotts or embargoes.
The Saudi boycott of Israeli-made goods is part of the decades-old Arab League effort to isolate and weaken the Jewish state.
The league established an Office for the Boycott of Israel in Damascus in 1951, aimed at overseeing implementation of the economic and trade embargo.
In recent years, enforcement of the boycott has waxed and waned. Some Arab League members, such as Egypt and Jordan, ceased applying it after signing peace treaties with Israel, while others, such as Mauritania, Morocco and Tunisia do not enforce it. Other Arab states, such as Lebanon, Syria and Iraq, continue to bar entry of goods made in Israel and those containing Israeli-made components.
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