Palestinian Authority Economy Minister Hassan Abu Libda met with Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer in Tel Aviv yesterday, but said afterward that Palestinians would continue to boycott settlement goods despite Israel's requests that it stop.
The two also discussed a new Palestinian law, expected to take effect at the beginning of 2012, which would ban Palestinians from working in the settlements. In addition, Abu Libda detailed the PA's request for observer status in the World Trade Organization and asked for Israel's cooperation on this matter.
Maj. Gen. Eitan Dangot, the coordinator of government activities in the territories, also attended the meeting. Ben-Eliezer has asked the PA minister in the past to put an end to the boycott, which urges Palestinians not to buy goods from companies located in settlements in the West Bank or the Golan Heights.
But Abu Libda said the very fact that Israel keeps requesting an end to the boycott proves that it has been a success and has contributed to the effort to diminish the settlements' economic power. Therefore, he said, the PA is steadfast in its determination to continue the boycott.
Abu Libda presented a proposal for regional industrial development in the West Bank, along with a request that Israel cancel its restrictions on dual-use products, which have both civilian and military uses. He also asked Israel to honor the free trade agreement between the PA and the European Union, which Israel refuses to recognize.
A door-to-door campaign
The Israeli Manufacturers Association has asked the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry to compensate those of its members who have been hurt by the Palestinian boycott against goods produced in the West Bank. Ben-Eliezer hasn't yet agreed, but he has asked ministry officials to prepare plans to help Israeli manufacturers who want to replace Palestinian workers with Israelis.
Ministry officials have also approached both their Palestinian counterparts and international bodies to ask them to try to get the boycott canceled, as they say it violates international trade rules.
Ben-Eliezer said he views the Palestinian decision gravely, particularly in light of the expected renewal of direct talks between the parties. "The boycott must be lifted immediately, because many businesses in the West Bank employ a large number of Palestinians," he added. He also said the meeting with Abu Libda was a historic opportunity to create a positive atmosphere and could help jump-start direct negotiations.
Both ministers agreed that the meeting was a positive step and pledged to continue their dialogue on a regular basis. They also agreed that professionals from both ministries should meet regularly to discuss issues of mutual concern, such as recognizing each other's standards or gaining permission for Palestinian products to be sold in East Jerusalem.
Abu Libda said that Israel must improve access for people and goods both within the West Bank and between the West Bank and Gaza. He also asked it to allow foreign investors to enter Palestinian territories freely.
In May, 3,000 Palestinian volunteers enlisted by the Palestinian Finance Ministry and the government of PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad went door to door in West Bank communities to explain why Palestinians should boycott settlement products.
Each household received a pamphlet listing dozens of Israeli products that the PA has identified as being manufactured in the West Bank or the Golan Heights and explaining that purchasing these products bolsters the settlements and undermines the Palestinian struggle.
The list of boycotted goods includes such well-known local brands as Shamir Salads, Kobi Burekas, Ramat Hagolan Dairies, Jerusalem Granola, Bagel Bagel, Mei Eden, Soda Club, Barkan Wineries, Ramat Hagolan Wineries, Rav-Bariach and Ahava Products.
The volunteers also warned that anyone caught trading in such items would risk punishment. Many of the volunteers were university and high school students. The list of items is quite long, and the pamphlet includes photographs in order to help Palestinians understand exactly which products are meant.