Israel and the Palestinian Authority appeared to be on the brink of a trade war Friday, after the Jewish state announced it was stopping all agricultural imports from the West Bank and Ramallah threatened to respond.
The root of the conflict is an October decision 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, even dropping cattle outside Defense Minister Naftali Bennett’s yard in Ra’anana earlier this month to drive home their point.
“The minister can take care of them or stop the boycott,” one farmer told the Ynet news site at the time.
In response, Bennett on Friday announced he had ordered a halt to all agricultural produce imported to Israel, starting on Sunday, February 2.
“The minister’s decision was made after months of repeated attempts… to negotiate a solution to the cattle crisis, which has caused severe harm to the cattle-growing sector in Israel and to the collapse of hundreds of farms.”
Israel’s Kan TV reported that PA President Mahmoud Abbas had ordered all imports from Israel stopped, however PA government spokesman Ibrahim Milhem said in a statement that Ramallah would “study” Bennett’s decision and would take “the appropriate measure” in response.
He did not elaborate on what measures were being considered.
PA imports from Israel are worth tens of billions of shekels a year. Israel imports some 700 million shekels worth of goods, mostly fruit and vegetables.
MK Ofer Kasif, a Jewish member of the Joint List party, reportedly sent a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asking him to intervene.
Kasif said Bennett, of the right-wing Yamina party, was trying to starve the West Bank for electioneering purposes ahead of the March vote, according to Israel Radio.
The dispute comes amid increased tensions between Israel and the PA over the release of the Trump peace plan, which the Palestinians have bitterly rejected.
Earlier this week, Palestinian Authority Civil Affairs Minister Hussein al-Sheikh met with Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon in order to tell Israel that the PA views the plan presented Tuesday in Washington as voiding the Oslo peace accords and that the Palestinians now feel free to break their commitments, including security cooperation.
Abbas reportedly sent Netanyahu a handwritten note warning him of the consequences of Israel adopting the plan, which includes the annexation of the Jordan Valley and Israeli settlements in the West Bank.
Abbas has threatened on multiple occasions in the past to nullify agreements with Israel, including the 1993 Oslo accords.
The two governments work together on matters ranging from water to security, and withdrawing from agreements could impact security in the West Bank.
Adam Rasgon contributed to this report