Trade War Over: Israel and Palestinian Authority Announce End to Agriculture Dispute

Parties break deadlock that saw Israel respond to a calf boycott with a series of increasingly stringent trade blockades on the West Bank and Gaza Strip

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.
\ AMMAR AWAD/ REUTERS

Israel and the Palestinian Authority announced Thursday that they are renewing agricultural trade after several days of negotiations. The PA has announced that it is halting its boycott of Israeli ranchers, and Israel said it has reopened agricultural imports from West Bank. 

The Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, Kamil Abu Rukun, the chief of the Civil Administration Rassan Alian and Agriculture Minister Tzachi Hanegbi held talks with PA representatives, reaching understandings some three weeks after Israel stopped imports from the Strip

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The break in trade resulted in changes in the market: Israel was flooded with bananas; according to data from the Israeli Agriculture Ministry, the fruit's price dropped by four percent in February.

Palestinian farmers suffered the most from the trade dispute. Data from the Palestinian Agriculture Ministry shows that in 2018, agricultural exports from Gaza into Israel totaled 88 million dollars — which is 68 percent of the agricultural exports of the West Bank, for comparison. In the Jordan Valley, one of the areas in the West Bank where agriculture is a main source of livelihood for locals, the price of vegetables dropped this month because the Palestinian market was flooded with all the goods that had not been passed on to Israel. 

The boycott moves started several months ago, when the PA tried to import calves independently as part of its attempts to disengage financially from Israel — a move being led by Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh. In September, the PA officially decided to enact a comprehensive boycott of calves from Israel. 

Israel perceived the decision as a violation of the agriculture trade agreement signed in 1994 as part of the Oslo Accords process, and responded by placing sanctions on the Palestinians. It revoked the entry permits and trade licenses granted to the Palestinian businesspeople, halted the passage of donations to the PA and did not let Palestinians bring cattle they imported independently into Gaza.

At the end of January, Defense Minister Naftali Bennett ordered the coordinator of government activities in the territories to stop agricultural imports from the PA, and a week later to prevent export of agricultural produce through Jordan. The PA decided in response to stop importing agricultural produce, fruit juices and mineral water from Israel. A senior Palestinian official said the decision was part of "the economic and political war against the Palestinians."

A Palestinian farmer collects strawberries in a field in Beit Lahia in the northern Gaza Strip on December 4, 2016.
MAHMUD HAMS / AFP

"In the existing atmosphere, it will only exacerbate tensions and frustrations," the official added. Several Palestinians were killed and dozens injured, some critically, in clashes with Israeli security forces in the West Bank and Jerusalem since the end of January. Fourteen Israeli soldiers were also injured in three separate incidents in two days in early February. The confrontations were sparked by the announcement of the Trump administration's Middle East peace plan on January 28, which is widely seen as biased towards Israel.