Trump should de­mand an end to the Arab boy­cott of Is­rael

Jerusalem Post - - OBSERVATIONS - • By MICHAEL FREUND (Reuters) www.davidmwein­

Two months ago, for the sec­ond time since Don­ald Trump en­tered the White House, the US Trea­sury Depart­ment pub­lished a brief no­tice that war­rants se­ri­ous at­ten­tion as well as im­me­di­ate ac­tion by Wash­ing­ton.

As re­quired by US law, the Trea­sury re­leased a quar­terly “list of coun­tries re­quir­ing co­op­er­a­tion with an in­ter­na­tional boy­cott.”

The list, which ap­pears in the Fed­eral Regis­ter (Vol. 82, No. 147), con­sists en­tirely of nine Arab coun­tries which con­tinue to im­ple­ment var­i­ous as­pects of the Arab League boy­cott of Is­rael. They in­clude failed states such as Libya and Syria, but also os­ten­si­ble US al­lies such as Iraq, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Ara­bia and the United Arab Emi­rates (UAE).

Though long since writ­ten off as a relic of the past, the Arab trade em­bargo against the Jewish state re­mains on the books and has never been for­mally lifted. It is time for this to change and for the US to flex its diplo­matic mus­cles to get the boy­cott re­scinded once and for all.

Launched in 1945, be­fore the Jewish state had even been es­tab­lished, the Arab boy­cott is noth­ing less than a form of eco­nomic war­fare aimed at un­der­min­ing the ex­is­tence of Is­rael. It re­mains a pow­er­ful sym­bol of the Arab-Is­raeli con­flict even if its en­force­ment is far more lax than it once was.

Rec­og­niz­ing its dele­te­ri­ous con­se­quences, of­fi­cial US pol­icy has long been to op­pose the boy­cott. In 1977, Congress passed leg­is­la­tion that pro­hibits Amer­i­can firms from co­op­er­at­ing with any boy­cott re­quests, with vi­o­la­tors fac­ing civil and pos­si­ble crim­i­nal penal­ties.

While it is an open se­cret that busi­ness­men in a num­ber of Gulf Arab states qui­etly en­gage in com­merce with the “Zion­ist en­tity,” it is also a fact that oth­ers ac­tu­ally have gov­ern­ment de­part­ments tasked with pre­vent­ing such trade.

Take, for ex­am­ple, the UAE’s Min­istry of Econ­omy, which is based in Abu Dhabi. On its of­fi­cial English-lan­guage web­site, the min­istry brazenly states that one of its re­spon­si­bil­i­ties is to “im­ple­ment leg­is­la­tion for the Is­rael boy­cott and tak­ing nec­es­sary de­ci­sions on this con­cern.”

Just re­cently, the Trade­marks Depart­ment of the Min­istry pub­lished a Ser­vices Guide 2017 that says ex­plic­itly that any­one ap­ply­ing to regis­ter a trade­mark in the UAE must present cer­ti­fi­ca­tion that the item in ques­tion has not been “banned from the Is­rael Boy­cott Bureau in the Min­istry.”

It is not only the Gulf states that present a prob­lem in this re­gard. On June 1, Le­banese author­i­ties made head­lines world­wide when they de­cided to ban the film “Won­der Woman” be­cause it starred Is­raeli ac­tress Gal Gadot.

Le­banon’s Min­istry of Econ­omy and Trade went so far as to is­sue an of­fi­cial state­ment declar­ing that it had “taken all nec­es­sary ac­tion” to pre­vent the movie from be­ing screened.

As CNN Money re­ported at the time, “Le­banon bans the pur­chase of Is­raeli prod­ucts and its cit­i­zens are not al­lowed to travel there.”

“We refuse to nor­mal­ize re­la­tions with an en­emy state,” Ra­nia Masri, a mem­ber of the Le­banese group Cam­paign to Boy­cott Sup­port­ers of Is­rael told the net­work. “We’re not talk­ing about a po­lit­i­cal dis­agree­ment, were talk­ing about re­sis­tance against oc­cu­pa­tion.”

Then there are coun­tries such as Iraq and Kuwait, the gov­ern­ments of which both owe their very ex­is­tence to US in­ter­ven­tion in the re­gion over the past three decades. It sim­ply de­fies be­lief that de­spite ev­ery­thing Wash­ing­ton has done for these two coun­tries, they would per­sist in de­fy­ing Amer­i­can pres­sure on this is­sue.

And don’t for­get about Saudi Ara­bia, where Pres­i­dent Trump paid his first for­eign visit ear­lier this year.

Back in De­cem­ber 2005, the Bush Ad­min­is­tra­tion ac­ceded to Riyadh’s re­quest to join the World Trade Or­ga­ni­za­tion (WTO) on the con­di­tion that the desert king­dom would re­move the boy­cott, which it promised to do. But the Saudi roy­als wasted lit­tle time in mak­ing a mock­ery of that pledge. Just three months af­ter en­ter­ing the WTO, they played host in March 2006 to a ma­jor in­ter­na­tional con­fer­ence aimed at in­ten­si­fy­ing the anti-Is­rael boy­cott.

As a Jerusalem Post cor­re­spon­dent at the time, I in­ter­viewed Rep. Mike Pence of In­di­ana, who now hap­pens to be Vice Pres­i­dent of the United States. In an April 19, 2007, news story I wrote head­lined, “Con­gress­men blast Saudis for con­tin­ued boy­cott,” Pence said the fol­low­ing: “Saudi Ara­bia’s boy­cott of Is­rael never should have ex­isted in the first place and they should end it im­me­di­ately.” He added that the em­bargo was “a relic of wars waged decades ago and there is sim­ply no moral or strate­gic rea­son there should be a boy­cott at all.”

Pence also sug­gested that the con­tin­u­ing boy­cott could im­pact the US-Saudi re­la­tion­ship.

“The Saudis clearly need to do a bet­ter job of liv­ing up to their com­mit­ments if they ex­pect to have warm re­la­tions with the United States,” he as­serted.

That, as I noted, was over a decade ago. Nonethe­less, de­spite its prom­ise to Wash­ing­ton, as well as WTO rules pro­hibit­ing mem­ber states from en­gag­ing in dis­crim­i­na­tory prac­tices such as boy­cotts, Saudi Ara­bia con­tin­ues pub­licly to shun the Jewish state.

Now is the time for Wash­ing­ton to act to bring about an end to the Arab boy­cott. As an Au­gust 25 re­port by the Con­gres­sional Re­search Ser­vice noted, “The Arab League has ac­knowl­edged that US pres­sure has af­fected its abil­ity to main­tain the boy­cott.”

Cracks have be­gun to ap­pear, as ev­i­denced by re­ports last month that the King of Bahrain said he was “tired” of the boy­cott and that it was time for a change.

As he strives to make progress in the Mid­dle East, Don­ald Trump can make his­tory with a sim­ple yet firm de­mand from Amer­ica’s os­ten­si­ble Arab al­lies: if you are se­ri­ous about peace with Is­rael, then drop the boy­cott once and for all.

ARAB LEAGUE for­eign min­is­ters gather at their an­nual meet­ing ear­lier this year.

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