Amid battle over cattle trade, PA says Israel preventing exports through Jordan

Ramallah officials say trucks carrying produce to border have been turned back in recent days amid escalating trade war; Israeli official confirms new policy to newspaper

File: Palestinian farmers harvest potatoes in a field in Al Aghwar, near Jericho in the West Bank, Saturday, Jan. 18, 2014. (AP Photo/Nasser Ishtayeh)
File: Palestinian farmers harvest potatoes in a field in Al Aghwar, near Jericho in the West Bank, Saturday, Jan. 18, 2014. (AP Photo/Nasser Ishtayeh)

Israel on Thursday and Friday blocked Palestinian trucks from carrying produce intended for export into Jordan, the Palestinian Authority’s National Economy Ministry said.

“The occupation authorities turned back from military checkpoints Palestinian trucks loaded with agricultural products for export to several countries,” the ministry said, according to reports in multiple Palestinian outlets.

It said trucks were blocked over the past few days and noted it had informed exporters of the matter.

An official at the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), the Defense Ministry body responsible for liaising with the Palestinians, confirmed to Haaretz that Israel had decided to prevent Palestinian agriculture exports through Jordan.

Earlier this month Defense Minister Naftali Bennett ordered Israeli authorities to ban the entry of Palestinian produce into Israel amid an ongoing battle over agricultural imports.

Palestinian farmers pack corn at the Jordan Valley, West Bank, Thursday, Jan. 2, 2020. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

This led Palestinian officials on Thursday to say they’d begun to bar the entry of some Israeli products into Palestinian markets.

On Thursday Palestinian Agriculture Minister Riyad Al-Atari said the PA was seeking to replace missing Israeli products with Jordanian alternatives.

Bennett’s office said last week that he instructed COGAT to ban the entry of Palestinian fruits and vegetables into Israel in response to a PA boycott of cattle grown in the Jewish state.

The root of the conflict is an October move by the Palestinians to boycott cattle and sheep meat products, with the Palestinian Authority complaining that Israel was forcing it to buy from Israeli farmers and limiting its access to cheaper overseas meat products.

The boycott has led Israeli farmers to incur heavy losses and local growers have protested to the government to end the crisis.

File: Palestinian laborers pack grapes into recycled cartons during a harvest in the Jordan Valley in the West Bank near Jericho, Wednesday, June 11, 2014 (AP Photo/Nasser Ishtayeh)

In December the PA ended its embargo on Israeli cattle after Israel agreed to allow the Palestinians to directly import cattle from abroad, set up a special cattle quarantine station and export eggs to Israeli markets. But a month later the PA reversed course and banned the cattle imports again, saying Israel did not abide by the agreement.

Palestinians import approximately NIS 700-800 million ($185 million-$212 million) in fruits and vegetables from Israel every year, according to former PA agriculture minister Walid Assaf.

Meanwhile, Palestinian farmers annually send some NIS 200 million ($58 million) of produce to Israel, said Abbas Melhem, director of the Palestinian Farmers Union. He said the main produce items that Palestinians export to Israel were tomatoes, potatoes, beans, cucumbers, peppers, onions and zucchini.

In a similar dispute in late 2018, Israeli and Palestinian authorities temporarily banned some of the others’ goods from their markets.

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