Where's the Beef in the Boycott?

Category: World Affairs Topics: Norway, Occupation, United Nations Views: 1113

It took the United Nations special envoy to the Middle East, Terje Roed-Larsen to ask Israel to lift its blockade of Palestinian areas, warning that the situation could deteriorate into a regional war.

The severe blockade that Israel imposed in October, citing 'security' reasons, is a collective punishment that has put hundreds of thousands of Palestinians out of work. In addition to destroying buildings and homes, the Israeli army and settlers have destroyed more than 44,000 trees, mainly grapevines, and other agricultural trees - means of sustenance that will years to replace.

What has been the Arab official response? It was the belated and of course symbolic withdrawal of ambassadors from Tel Aviv by Jordan and Egypt.

In the absence of an official response, there have been stray and popular attempts at punishing the US, the power behind Zionist terrorism in Occupied Palestine. While there are many sincere voices in this effort, some of these voices seem to be hollow pronouncements for public consumption.

''Every penny spent on Israeli and American products will turn into a bullet fired into the chests of brethren in Palestine,'' said the Qatar-based Sheikh Yusuf al Qardawi.

He reminded: ''Were it not for America's absolute support and total bias toward the usurping Zionist entity, Israel wouldn't be able to continue its aggression.''

Inspiring words indeed. Nevertheless, the same respected Sheikh failed to speak out when Qatar recognized the Zionist entity and established diplomatic ties with it. In fact, it took the intransigence of Iran to oblige Qatar to make a token break with Tel Aviv.

The boycott appeals that name McDonald's and other US products - circulated in e-mail, announcements made from mosques, and scribbled on college walls - have struck a chord among some, who are shunning American fast food and fashion goods. However, in a region where suburbs and shopping malls look as though they have been transplanted from the United States, and of course American troops lounge nearby, governments and even urbanites are unlikely to get behind any boycott. America's economic and cultural presence is simply too great.

The Arab rulers have made their countries so dependent on America that now their citizen feel that they cannot eat, dress or even exist without American products. Big Macs, Starbucks, Huggies and of course American cars are considered essentials.

Even this soft goods boycott is not universal. For instance, despite the boycott calls, Faisaliah Mall, the sleek six-month-old shopping center in Riyadh, whose 102 shops mainly feature American and European brands, attracts up to 300,000 people a week -- four times the number its owners expected when they opened.

The only economic effect of the boycott may be on the expatriate workers employed to flip burgers or bottle fizzy drinks. The franchise holders - many of them from the ruling clans - already have scores of other business interests, and of course, the kings and emirs will reward their kin for such "national service" and compensate them for any losses.

The deathly silence of the Arab potentates as the Zionists slaughter Palestinians at will only indicates the value of the national service rendered by the former American ambassador to Iraq, April Gillespie. The Gulf War that she helped ignite has given the US a unique base in the Arab world. Thus, sensing that popular sentiment was hardening against Americans, the US placed its Gulf War-generated bases on alert. This served as a reminder to the Arab states that deadly force was at ready and waiting within their own heartland to strike against them should any of them dare to offer any help or sympathy to the Palestinians. In another move to keep the Arab rulers fully conscious of the American resolve, defense secretary Cohen visited the Gulf twice a year.

The American force is credible, in Bahrain, the headquarters of the US Fifth Fleet, there are 23 US naval ships. The immense American firepower is matched by symbolic and often emotional gestures on part of the Arabs. One such outburst was the gift of a Boeing 747 by Sheikh Hamad Bin Ali al-Thani, a member of Qatar's ruling family, to Saddam Hussein. Of course, after a few days, the airplane will require maintenance with parts controlled by the American enforced embargo.

Some thoughtful and brave Saudis are risking their futures to spread the word about the boycott, however while such calls are symptomatic of growing public antipathy in Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states toward the US, the US continues to be the kingdom's largest trading partner and the guarantor of its external defense and security.

According to a US State Department report, US direct investment in both industrial and non-industrial joint ventures reached $8 billion in more than 267 ventures as of June 1998. The emotion and the seeming sacrifice of not eating burgers, and going without Coke and Pepsi notwithstanding the boycott only targets consumer goods such as US-made cars, fast foods, cosmetics, and computers. Even if these dedicated souls manage to block the few hundred thousand spent on such imports, these amounts melt before the $60 billion spent by the Middle East on US made arms.

A study, The Military Balance, published the influential British think-tank, the International Institute for Strategic Studies, showed that the Middle East stockpiled more arms than any other region of the world last year. The report added, "Although the international arms trade fell slightly, countries in the Middle East he,ld their ran,k as the world's biggest arms customers and that was likely to continue, in light of the almost total collapse of the peace process."

The boycott campaign that began after the start of Israeli attacks on Sept. 29 is at best an informal campaign. The official calls for the boycott have come only from states that America considers pariahs: Iraq, Syria, and Libya. However, despite the tough language denouncing Israel and demanding more US sympathy for the Arab case, Gulf governments have distanced themselves from the boycott call. Even if the governments join the boycott, the Arabs have no mechanism to detect Israeli products entering their markets under different names of countries of origin. Another factor in rendering any boycott meaningless are the money hungry Arab businessmen who have little regard for the lives of the poor, especially lesser wretches such as the Palestinians. It is an open secret that many Arab companies have underhand dealings with Tel Aviv based companies, and of course, many Arabs, including members of ruling clans, have close business ties with Zionist elements and hold large shares in Disney and Murdoch media holdings.

The boycott will at best remain symbolic as long as Arabs continue to pursue a policy of import, consume, and waste. A few less burgers or fizzy drinks are unlikely to rue the feathers of any American giant. Moreover, many of the targeted businesses are franchises and the only 'loss' may be in a reduction of the franchise fee.

In fact, the Arab countries are not serious about the boycott or about isolating Israel. Egypt and Jordan have simply recalled ambassadors and business continues as usual. Even the much-discussed Qatari break with Tel Aviv did not draw a loud reaction from the US, indicating that it is but another sham.

If the boycott is being calculated to obtain results, then the Arab countries need to call not only for stopgap measures but also for alternative strategies. At the same instance that they stop western imports, they need to start emergency funding of alternate projects in developing Muslim nations, even nations that are not toeing the American line.

With the right kind of investments, Sudan and Pakistan can serve as reliable sources of food and manufactured goods, giving them a brotherly alternative to enemy diktats.

  Category: World Affairs
  Topics: Norway, Occupation, United Nations
Views: 1113

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