Saudi Arabia Continues Boycott of Israel

(August 2, 2006)

By David Krusch

In November 2005, as a condition of joining the World Trade Organization, Saudi Arabia was required to lift its trade boycott of Israel. The United States and Israel both agreed to allow the Arab kingdom into the WTO if it agreed to cease the boycott. Since that time, the United States has asked and received several assurances from the Saudis that it is not enforcing the boycott; however, the kingdom has both participated in and hosted boycott conferences, and is continuing to prohibit Israeli-made goods from entering the country.

Susan Schwab, a senior U.S. trade official, told a Congressional hearing that the boycott had in fact been lifted. However, there are several examples of direct evidence that illustrate the contrary. In the 44-page “Saudi Arabia and the WTO” report prepared by Brad Bourland, chief economist at the Saudi Samba Financial Group, one section states that, “Saudi Arabia’s stance toward Israel does not change due to WTO accession....The primary Arab League boycott of Israel remains in place.”

This was confimed by the Saudis themselves when an official at the Commerce and Industry Ministry denied the Kingdom had lifted the boycott. “The Kingdom has lifted only the second and third degree boycott,” the official said.

On March 13, 2006, the Saudis hosted the Organization of the Islamic Conference’s annual boycott meeting with the intention of amplifying the boycott against Israel, which immediately aroused suspicion in Congress about Saudi Arabia’s complicity with WTO regulations. In early May, an official Saudi delegation went to Damascus to participate in a meeting organized by the Arab League’s boycott office. The meeting called for greater efforts to block Israeli products from entering those Arab nations enforcing the boycott. According to the boycott office’s commissioner general Mohammad al-Tayyeb Bouslaa, Arab nations “need to tighten the boycott as a way to express our rejection of aggression, and to force Israel to implement UN resolutions.” Saudi Arabia participated, while countries such as Egypt, Jordan, and Mauritania — nations who have relations with Israel — were absent.

Saudi officials have also publicly stated their intentions of continuing to enforce the boycott. “If a product is made in Israel, then...It is not allowed here. That is the law here in Saudi Arabia, and we do not allow those kinds of things into the kingdom,” said Muhammad al-Matrafi, a spokesman for the Director’s Office of the King Khalid Airport in Riyadh.

A Saudi customs official said definitively that, “There is still a ban on Israeli products, and anything declared as coming from Israel will not be allowed.”

On April 5, 2006, the House of Representatives unanimously passed a resolution urging President Bush to pressure Saudi Arabia to live up to its WTO commitments. The resolution states that, “Saudi Arabia should maintain and fully live up to its commitments under the World Trade Organization (WTO) and end all aspects of any boycott on Israel; and the President...should urge Saudi Arabia to end any boycott on Israel.”

Source: Arab News, (December 22, 2005); Michael Freund, “Saudis flout vow to end Israel boycott, The Jerusalem Post, (June 2, 2006); AP and Jerusalem Post Staff, “Boycott committee calls for tighter measures against Israel, The Jerusalem Post, (May 16, 2006); JTA (May 19, 2006)