What The Arabs Should Do

William Quandt, a former National Security Council staff member for the Middle East and now a senior
fellow at the Brookings Institution, recently returned from a tour of the Middle East with a cautious assessment
of the peace initiative stimulated by the agreement between Jordan's King Hussein and PLO leader Yasir

Quandt admitted that Middle East analysts have to "read tea leaves" when trying to evaluate developments in
the Middle East. The problem with this type of "analysis" is that the reader sees only what he or she wants to
see. In the current round of soothsaying, those people who believe the Arabls are genuinely interested in peace
see the Arafat-Hussein accord as a "window of opportunity" that the United States need only enter to bring
about a rapprochement between the Arabs and Israelis. The source of this optimism is a phrase in which the
parties agreed to accept all United Nations resolutions. This in interpreted by the optimists to mean the
acceptance of Resolution 242, which, among other things, provides that every state in the area has the right to
live in peace. In other words, this is supposed to be the long-awaited acknowledgement by the Palestine
Liberation Organization of Israel's right to exist.

If we discard the tea leaves, however, it is by no means clear that the Hussein-Arafat agreement means
anything of the kind. Just as in the case of the 1982 Fez peace plan (which the Arab League still endorses), and
its proposal that the Security Council guarantee peace among all states in the region, the new initiative fails to
state explicitly that the Arabs recognize Israel's right to exist within secure boundaries. Moreover, the
agreement called for "total" withdrawal from the territories occupied in 1967. This is a serious departure from the
text of Resolution 242, in which the word "total" is absent.

Momentum toward peace is not generated by hopeful signs divined via tea leaves. Long years of enmity are not
overcome by ambiguous statements subject to later disavowal. The peace process can only progress through
action --dramatic action that can break down psychological barriers. Anwar Sadat set the precedent by traveling
to Jerusalem, and Israel has waited for eight years hoping that another Arab leader would follow the same path.
Hussein has made it clear he will not make the journey, however. So what hope is there?

There is another action open to the Arab side that would demonstrate a willingness to end the 37-year state of
belligerency, an action that would not only be less traumatic than going to Jerusalem but would also offer
substantial benefits to the Arab states. The initiative suggested here is an abrogation of the Arab boycott
against Israel.

The boycott, in effect since even before the Jewish state was founded, represents a major impediment to free
trade and the normalization of relations between Arabs and Israelis. The primary boycott prohibits direct trade
between Israel and the Arab nations. The secondary boycott is directed at companies that do business with
Israel and the tertiary boycott involves the blacklisting of firms that trade with other companies that do business
with Israel. In 1977, Congress prohibited U.S. companies from cooperating with the Arab boycott, but it remains
in effect and certain U.S. companies have been blacklisted for their relations with Israel.

By ending this economic war against Israel, the Arabs would take a giant step toward ending the political
conflict. Perhaps equally important, both the Arabs and Israelis would gain from the benefits of free trade. Not
only would Israel obtain access to a large export market, but the Arab states would have a significant new
source of high technology. The Arabs also would benefit from access to American firms now blacklisted. Since
the boycott has had little more than symbolic impact on Israel anyway, ending the boycott would be an
important but low-cost concession.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak is right: The United States should get involved in the Middle East peace
process, but not by reneging on commitments to Israel and meeting with a PLO-Jordanian delegation. Instead,
the United States should use its leverage on the Arabs and push for an end to the boycott.

We can start with our "friend," King Fahd of Saudi Arabia, who recently visited and brought a long shopping list
of weapons the kingdom would like to purchase. Since the Saudis have yet to demonstrate a capacity to act in
concert with U.S. interests, even after receiving AWACS radar planes, this would present a "window of
opportunity" for them to demonstrate their friendship by advancing the cause of peace. If the Saudis act, other
Arab nations are likely to follow and Israel will have a clear signal of Arab intentions, one that no doubt would
stimulate a positive response.