CAIRO, Egypt -- Diplomats say that the 43-year-old Arab ban on commercial and financial ties with Israel would not be lifted anytime soon and that the official blacklist of foreign companies that do business with Israel might even be expanded at the urging of hard-line states.
Arab League officials are to meet in Damascus on Oct. 24 to discuss increasing the blacklist despite appeals from U.S. officials, who argue that the boycott of 10,000 companies should be lifted soon to add momentum to Middle East peace talks.
[Meanwhile, the next round of Middle East peace talks has been delayed until November instead of resuming later this month.]
Assistant Secretary of State Edward Djerejian told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Friday in Washington that the Arab blacklist was "totally unacceptable."
He said the Clinton administration had told several Arab countries, including Syria, that adding companies to the list "would be a step, obviously, in the wrong direction" after the signing of an accord last month by Israel and the Palestinians.
But Arab diplomats in Damascus and Cairo said yesterday that hard-line Arab states like Syria, Iraq and Libya were seeking to widen the boycott, in part because they were unhappy with the accord.
"Any lifting or alteration of the boycott," said a senior Arab diplomat, "would have to be unanimous, and since unanimity is impossible, it will remain in force."
Even moderate Arab governments like Saudi Arabia's are reluctant to support a repeal because they do not want to give ammunition to their Islamic hard-line critics, the diplomats said. Militant Islamic groups have denounced the pact on self-rule in the Israeli-occupied Gaza Strip and Jericho as a sellout that compromises Palestinians' interests.
Several Arab officials said they would be reluctant to give up the boycott as long as Israel has nuclear weapons, continues to occupy Gaza, the West Bank, the Golan Heights and southern Lebanon and fails to reach an agreement with its neighbors on sharing scarce water.