The Palestinian Authority government decided on Thursday to halt Israeli fruit, vegetable, and poultry imports into Palestinian markets, the official PA news site Wafa reported.
The decision came after Israeli Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel decided to freeze Palestinian fruit and vegetable imports into Israel.
Ariel ordered authorities in the Agriculture Ministry not to permit Palestinian fruit and vegetable imports into the Jewish state on December 17 after the PA instructed Palestinian meat-sellers to stop purchasing lamb from Israel, Dalia Goldenberg, a spokeswoman for the minister, said in a phone call.
Deputy PA Agriculture Minister Abdullah Lahlouh confirmed in a phone call that Israel has been turning away Palestinian fruits and vegetables at border crossings for approximately the past ten days.
“The Council of Ministers decided during its weekly meeting on Thursday in Ramallah led by Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah to ban the entry of all types of [Israeli] vegetables, fruits and poultry into Palestinian markets,” the Wafa report said. “The Council called on citizens and merchants to cooperate in order to make this decision successful and protect Palestinian farmers.”
Ariel responded to the PA’s decision to freeze Israeli produce and poultry imports into Palestinian markets, saying the Agriculture Ministry “will not give in to threats.”
He also said the Agriculture Ministry would resume Palestinian fruit and vegetable imports into Israel, if the “PA cancels its prohibition on importing lamb [from Israel]” into Palestinian markets.
In a statement last Wednesday, the PA Agricultural Ministry said it banned Palestinian meat purveyors on December 2 from purchasing lamb from Israeli importers.
The ministry said it made the decision after the price of lamb in the Palestinian market fell below its local cost of production.
Tareq Abu Laban, the PA Agriculture Ministry’s director of marketing, said the decision only affected lamb products that Israeli merchants import from abroad, emphasizing it did not impact lamb produced in Israel. He said the decision was made for economic reasons.
“We made the decision after many local lamb farmers asked us to stop foreign lamb imports. We did it to protect our farmers,” he said last Wednesday in a phone call.
Goldenberg denied Abu Laban’s account, arguing the PA has halted Israeli-bred lamb from entering Palestinian markets.
She also said the PA’s decision to order Palestinian meat-sellers to stop buying lamb from Israel violates the Paris Protocol, the economic annex of the Oslo Accords signed in the mid-1990s by Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization.
Asked to provide the specific clause the PA had violated, Goldenberg did not respond.
Abu Laban also denied the PA Agriculture Ministry’s decision was in contravention of agreements between Israel and the Palestinians.
Israeli security officials have warned Ariel that his decision could lead to an escalation in violence against Israelis, defense officials told Israel’s Hadashot TV news last week .
“This is an irresponsible and populist decision that flows from purely political considerations, and comes at the expense of the public’s safety, including the safety of settlers,” an unnamed defense official told the television station. “It also will encourage smuggling and lead to an increase in prices in Israel.”
Goldenberg defended Ariel’s decision, saying the minister merely wants agreements between Israel and the Palestinians to be implemented.
Former PA Agriculture Minister Walid Assaf said that the Palestinians traditionally import approximately NIS 700-800 million ($185 million-$212 million) in fruits and vegetables every year as well as NIS 10 million ($2.6 million) in poultry.
“I believe Israel will be facing major losses,” Assaf said in a phone call.
Abbas Melhem, the director of the Palestinian Farmers Union, said in a phone call that Palestinian farmers annually send some NIS 207 million ($55 million) of produce to Israel and added that many areas of the West Bank, especially Tubas, Tulkarem and Jenin, rely on exporting fruits and vegetables to the Jewish state.
He also called on the PA government to take action to find alternative markets such as Jordan for Palestinian farmers to sell their fruits and vegetables.