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Economists debate merits of Arab boycott

By Ibtisam Awadat,
Star Staff Writer
April 20, 2002

The only weapon left to them to express anger and frustration is an economic weapon: Boycott of US and Israeli products.


The ongoing Israeli atrocities against the Palestinians have tacit US support, leaving peoples of the Arab and Islamic world feeling helpless over the silence of the political system, particularly their own. The only weapon left to them to express anger and frustration is an economic weapon: Boycott of US and Israeli products. This popular tool is gaining speed on the ground but has generated controversy amongst politicians who will field the complaints and economic observers who fear it is a step toward greater economic hardship for many countries.

Some analysts suggest the enormous US and Israeli economies will not be affected by an Arab boycott, and thus, this option should be abandoned as it will only cause harm locally. Supporters say the boycott is not meant as an economic weapon to harm US and Israeli economies so much as a political message to the international community from the outraged Arab and Muslim world, condemning the double standards they suffer.

Economic analyst Dr Abdallah Al Malki tackled the historic Arab boycott of Israel in a recent article in the Arabic daily Ad-Dustour, saying one of the consequences of the Arab-Israeli peace agreements, including the Oslo Peace Accord, was the hasty decision to give up the Arab boycott of Israel.

"We should have kept the 'boycott' weapon to use as one of our political pressure cards until the peace process reached an end," Al Malki wrote. Today with the Israeli incursion into Palestinian territories the peace process hasn't been accomplished, and Israel has seen tremendous economic gain from its relations with the Arab world-gains which have translated into Israeli weapons and war machines on the ground being used against Palestinians.

The question is 'can Arabs revive the US and Israeli boycott once again?'. "The most dangerous outcome of Oslo Peace Accord was that Arabs, at least part of them, thought the Arab-Israeli conflict was limited to Palestinian-Israeli strife," says Al Malki. He believes the Arab economic boycott should remain as one of an arsenal of effective economic weapons. Arabs will always need some political and economic weapon in their struggle against Israeli occupation. It stands to be long-term conflict. New weapons should be developed, new approaches considered, and the boycott reinstated. The impact of a boycott is not simply economic. It also has moral, cultural and psychological effects on Arab people themselves. "The Arabs who discovered peace was never an Israeli demand should remain alert to efforts to revive the economic boycott," Al Malki continued.

Dr Ibrahim Badran-in an article entitled 'Economic Boycott'-states boycotts are an expression of people's protest. Badran tackled the issue of an Arab boycott of US products explaining how many businessmen and politicians may question the benefit behind the boycott of an enormous economy like America but "they [should not] imagine this boycott should either devastate the US economy or else be useless," Badran wrote. Many other observers and politicians, Badran added, note an Arab boycott is the responsibility of Arab Governments, not the people. The US economy is estimated at 10 trillion dollars compared to Arab economies operating at 800 billion dollars. "Others believe the US economy is so huge the Arab boycott will be worthless, however, we can't measure political issues only with figures and statistics," Badran noted.

Since Arab political solutions appear unable to accomplish any tangible changes to halt Israeli atrocities, the popular stance becomes very significant. "The popular boycott of US products is one democratic mechanism that complies with international conventions, human rights and international legitimacy," Badran stated. Many nations practiced economic boycott against their occupiers as a message of protest. India practiced it in the era of Mahatma Gandhi against the British rule.

In addition, an economic boycott attracts the attention of decision makers in civil society, forcing institutions and businesses that have the power to make changes to make them, Badran noted. The Arab world should teach their children that anger and protest has to be expressed through practical, pragmatic and democratic means. "The political, cultural and popular leading figures should direct the boycotting campaign of US and Israeli products and services," Badran stated. The Americans and Israelis must realize that Arabs are not only figures that can be manipulated to their desires," Badran concluded.