A promise that lifting the secondary and tertiary boycott of Israel would be discussed at an Arab ministerial meeting in March is more qualified than initially claimed, comments made at the end of January by Arab League secretary-general Esmat Abdel-Meguid suggest.

In an interview with the BBC World Service on 1 February, Abdel-Meguid confirmed that US Commerce Secretary Ron Brown had asked him to raise the boycott at a meeting in Cairo on 20 January. However, Abdel-Meguid said the request centred on specific projects only. ‘This matter has been put to me at the request of secretary Brown concerning the secondary and tertiary boycott (affecting) American companies that would like to deal with some projects in Jericho and Gaza,’ Abdel-Meguid said. ‘I told him it would be OK for me to submit that request to the council of foreign ministers due to meet in Cairo at the end of March.’

The US Commerce Department had previously announced that Brown had received a commitment from Abdel-Meguid ‘that recision of the secondary and tertiary boycotts against Israel would be considered’ at the next Arab League meeting. This suggested the boycott as a whole would be under review. Brown was visiting Cairo as part of a tour of Israel, the occupied territories and three Arab countries in which he called for an end of the Arab boycott of Israel (MEED 4:2:94, Regional Focus).

In a further sign of mounting pressure in the US for an end to the boycott, the American Jewish Committee placed a full-page advertisement in the daily New York Times on 31 December calling for an end to Arab ban on trade with Israel. The advertisement said that an end to the boycott ‘is the first step on the road to the economic co-operation needed to secure long-term peace for Israelis, for Palestinians, indeed for all the people of the Middle East.’