Pressured by Israeli Ranchers, Bennett Halts Agricultural Imports From West Bank

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A Palestinian herds cattle and sheep in Jordan Valley, the eastern-most part of the Israeli-occupied West Bank that borders Jordan June 26, 2019.
A Palestinian herds cattle and sheep in Jordan Valley, the eastern-most part of the Israeli-occupied West Bank that borders Jordan June 26, 2019. Credit: \ AMMAR AWAD/ REUTERS

Defense Minister Naftali Bennett instructed the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories to stop agricultural imports from the Palestinian Authority to Israel after the PA had placed limitations on the import of calves from Israel.

According to a statement by Bennett, imports will cease starting February 2 at 6 A.M.

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He was pressured to make the move by Israeli cattle growers. The PA responded by stating that they would study the decision and respond accordingly.

In recent years, Israeli cattle growers have been selling Palestinians some 140,000 calves annually, worth $289,981,150. But in recent months the PA started trying to import calves independently as part of a policy led by Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh to disengage financially from Israel.

In September, the PA vetoed the import of calves from Israel. Jerusalem had perceived this move as a breach of the agricultural trade agreement it forged with the Palestinians as part of the economic pacts of the Oslo Accords in 1994. In response, Israel slapped sanctions on the PA: It revoked Palestinian businesspeople's passage and trade licenses, halted the passage of donations into the Strip and didn't allow Palestinians to bring the cattle they imported independently into Gaza.

In December, Israel and the PA agreed to end the boycott, chiefly because of the rise in cattle prices in the West Bank. The two parties agreed that the PA could purchase cattle from Israel, but in a limited capacity. Israeli cattle growers, who were averse to this agreement, demanded that Israel stop importing vegetables from the West Bank and from Gaza as a means of pressuring the Palestinians into accepting their demands.

Doron Bidetz, the chairman of the Israeli cattle growers' association, told Haaretz that they are very pleased with Bennett decision, which they view as a direct result of the pressure they had applied on him. Cattle growers held several protests in recent weeks, with the most recent one taking place outside the defense minister's house two weeks ago.

"The calves crisis isn't over," Bidetz said. "The Palestinians are still limiting the amount of calves they let in [from Israel]. We call for free trade, as was agreed in the Oslo Accords," he urged, referring to the failed peace agreements signed between Israel and the Palestinians in 1993 and 1995.

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