The Palestinian Authority said Thursday it will bar Israeli fruit, vegetables and poultry from West Bank Palestinian markets, in retaliation for a decision by Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel to bar produce grown by Palestinians in the West Bank from being sold in Israel. What began as an effort by the Palestinian Agriculture Ministry to prop up the price of meat in the Palestinian market turned into a political arm-wrestling match.
In the past week, dozens of Palestinian farmers demonstrated near the Jalama and Tul Karm checkpoints to protest Israel’s refusal to let them export their produce to Israel. The protests and reports in the Palestinian media on Ariel’s decision included calls for the PA to retaliate in kind.
In a statement to Haaretz, Ariel’s office said his order came in the wake of a PA directive ending the import of lambs from Israeli breeders.
The office said it learned later that the Palestinian importer continued to import lambs from abroad, in what it called a gross, one-sided violation of the Protocol on Economic Relations, also called the Paris Protocol, regulating trade between Israel and the Palestinians. In addition, the office said, the news about the PA directive came from Israeli breeders and not the PA itself.
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A senior official in the Palestinian Agriculture Ministry told Haaretz that the ministry’s decision in early December to halt Israeli imports affected only lambs that Israeli traders import from abroad, not lambs bred in Israel.
The official said the decision was an economic one, the result of oversupply and falling prices in the Palestinian market that hurt Palestinian breeders. Similar decisions were taken in the past, he said, with regard to certain vegetables, such as potatoes, also to prevent prices from dropping.
The source also said that without Israeli approval, no Palestinian trader can import any agricultural products from abroad, including lambs and sheep, and the Israeli authorities also determine the amounts imported.
“While we made a professional decision to protect our farmers and to keep the market from being flooded, Ariel responded with a political measure,” the Palestinian agriculture official said.
After its weekly meeting Thursday, the Palestinian cabinet called on Palestinian traders and ordinary citizens “to cooperate in order to make the decision a success and to protect the national produce and the national economy.”
But professional sources said it would be difficult to enforce the prohibition against Israeli imports, both because of the large number of ways to get Israeli produce to Palestinian markets and the great demand for it, especially for the fruits and vegetables that Palestinian farmers cannot grow as a result of the shortage of water and the inaccessibility of farmland.