The GCC announced on 30 September that it will end the secondary and tertiary boycott of Israel, and support any move within the Arab League to end the primary boycott. The announcement was condemned by Syria and the Arab League but supported by the US.

The statement was issued by GCC foreign affairs ministers after talks with US Secretary of State Warren Christopher in the UN headquarters in New York. It said the GCC had taken ‘necessary measures’ to protect the interests of the GCC states and its trading partners. ‘As a result of these measures and for all practical purposes, (the) secondary and tertiary boycott are no longer a threat to the interests of these partners,’ the statement said.

The primary boycott bans members of the Arab League from direct commercial and trading activities with Israel. The secondary and tertiary boycott prevents trading with firms that deal with Israel, through investment or subsidiary companies.

Warren Christopher said the GCC decision was a significant step forward in the region and would end discrimination against US companies. US firms have been hit hard by the secondary and tertiary boycott because of tough US legislation prohibiting anyone from complying with Arab demands to adhere to boycott regulations. The EU, Israel’s second biggest trading partner after the US, also welcomed the move.

However, the Arab League said in a statement issued on 2 October that none of the GCC states had started formal proceedings required to lift any part of the boycott. ‘The Arab boycott of Israel was imposed by the decision taken by the Arab League Council and it is up to the Arab League Council to call it off,’ the statement said. However, officials at the league also admit that the GCC’s decision to drop the secondary and tertiary boycott will not have a major impact as few GCC states enforced this part of the ban.

Syria has strongly criticised the decision. Syria’s Foreign Affairs Minister Farouq al-Shara said on 2 October in New York that the move ‘was not timely and does not serve the Arab negotiators’ interests.’ The boycott has been considered by frontline Arab states as a means to win concessions from Israel at the negotiating table. It has been vigorously supported by Damascus, the headquarters of the boycott office which blacklists companies dealing with Israel. Iran and Libya have also condemned the move.

Egypt’s Foreign Affairs Minister Amr Mohamed Moussa issued a cautious welcome, but urged an appropriate response from Israel. ‘We call on Israel to take a parallel move to help improve the atmosphere in such areas as the (Jewish) settlements, security and treatment of Palestinians in the occupied territories,’ he was quoted as saying in the London daily Al- Hayat on 2 October. Egypt was the only Arab state which was not bound to uphold the boycott, after it signed a peace treaty in 1979. However, non-oil trade with Israel is estimated to have reached only $15 million year.