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Arab League Puts Off Consideration of Israel Boycott


CAIRO — As the Arab League finds itself increasingly divided over whether to consider Israel a friend or foe, the massacre of about 30 Palestinians by a Jewish settler in Hebron has set back the timetable for a possible lifting of the Arab boycott against the Israelis, officials said Monday.

Foreign ministers of the Arab world, still fractured by the wounds left by Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait, found themselves at their 101st regular session unable even to agree on who represents a common enemy of the Arabs--though Israel got barely a mention among possible threats to Arab security.

The conclusion of two days of meetings with no new resolutions adopted on the Arab boycott, Arab security or even the issue of a proposed Arab court of justice reflects the extent to which the Arab world remains unsettled by the Gulf War and uncertain about how to deal with prospects of a general peace with Israel.

"Relations with Israel have really changed substantially, and we cannot speak about Israel using the same language we used to use in the past," said Nagui Ghatrify, spokesman for the Foreign Ministry of Egypt, which has urged its Arab neighbors to move toward peaceful relations with the Jewish state.

But Syria and Lebanon prevailed in maintaining a hard-line stance toward Israel on resolutions pertaining to the Middle East conflict, against a growing sentiment among the Arab Gulf states and North African countries, like Tunisia and Morocco, that a moderate tone toward Jerusalem must be adopted in the Arab world.

The Gulf states and North Africa proposed taking steps toward dealing with Israel as a recognized state and a member of the Middle East community with which there should be contacts "in a sense of partnership," said a source familiar with the closed talks.

In his opening address to the league, Secretary General Esmat Abdel-Meguid called for complete disarming of Jewish settlers in the occupied territories; dismantling of all Jewish settlements in the territories, and speeding up creation of an effective international observer force in the West Bank.

Despite strong lobbying by the United States, no move was taken to lift the secondary economic boycott of Israel, under which companies that do business with the Jewish state are banned from doing business in the Arab world.

"The bloody and tragic events in Hebron really did not make it possible or convenient to discuss the question of the boycott," Ghatrify said. "It would have been a very nice gesture to Israel, (but) there remains a lot of bitterness, sadness and agony."

Adnan Omran, the league's assistant secretary general, said the group is unlikely to act on the boycott until there is movement on the peace process between Israel and its neighboring Arab states.

Farouk Shareh, Syria's foreign minister, said the boycott "is a legitimate act . . . as a result of Israel's occupation of Arab land, and it should remain so until the occupation ends."

Sources said the league adopted resolutions on the peace process; the Golan Heights; the intifada (the Palestinian uprising against Israel); Jerusalem; south Lebanon, and Palestinian refugees. They were very similar to previous, hard-line resolutions--in part because Syria and Lebanon refused all overtures toward moderation.

Under league rules, resolutions must be adopted unanimously; there is not even agreement on amending the charter to allow for divided opinion.

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