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Monday, April 16, 2007

Are The Saudis Boycott Isreal? Not True

Despite a promise made to Washington nearly 18 months ago to drop its trade embargo against Israel, Saudi Arabia continues to enforce the Arab League boycott, The Jerusalem Post has learned.

In November 2005, Riyadh pledged to abandon the boycott after Washington conditioned Saudi Arabia's entry into the World Trade Organization (WTO) 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.

Nonetheless, the Post has found, Saudi officials continue to bar entry to products manufactured in Israel or to foreign-made goods containing Israeli components.

"Goods made in Israel are not allowed here in Saudi Arabia," Khaled A-Sharif, assistant manager of the Saudi Customs Department at King Abdul Aziz Airport outside Jidda, told the Post by phone. "Of course it is not permitted," he said.

In the past, A-Sharif added, products made by firms that had "a relation" with Israel were also prohibited, but these were now allowed to be brought into the country.

A Saudi customs official at the airport, who identified himself only as Feisal, told the Post, "If it is made in Israel, then it is not allowed here in Saudi Arabia. If it is made in any other country, then no problem. But not from Israel."

A Saudi customs official at King Fahd International Airport in Dammam, who declined to give his name, told the Post Israeli-made goods would be confiscated upon arrival and not permitted entry into the kingdom. "You know, it is not allowed here," he said.

US officials have said they continue to raise the boycott issue with their Saudi counterparts.

In a written response appearing in last month's Congressional Record, US Trade Representative Susan Schwab addressed the question of Saudi compliance after being queried on the matter by Sen. Gordon Smith.

In her reply to Smith, Schwab confirmed that continued Saudi enforcement of the anti-Israel boycott would "not be in keeping" with Riyadh's commitments under the WTO.

Since the Saudis acceded to the WTO, Schwab wrote, "there have been conflicting signals from Saudi officials" regarding the boycott.

"We have taken every available opportunity to raise this issue with Saudi authorities to remind them of their commitment and our expectation that they honor this commitment," she said. "The administration will continue to monitor the situation."

As the Post revealed last year, the Saudis played host in March 2006 to a major international conference aimed at intensifying the anti-Israel boycott, and an official Saudi delegation took part in a meeting of the Arab League's boycott office in Damascus last May.

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