Palestinian officials said on Thursday that they have begun to bar the entry of some Israeli products into Palestinian markets, the latest tit-for-tat move in an ongoing battle over agricultural imports.
The Palestinian Authority’s National Economy Ministry said it had begun implementing a government decision to bar imports of Israeli fruits, vegetables, juices and bottled water to Palestinian markets.
The move came in response to Defense Minister Naftali Bennett’s decision to order Israeli authorities to ban the entry of Palestinian produce into Israel.
The PA Economy Ministry said in a statement that authorities across a number of ministries and security branches would work “around the clock” to enforce the import ban.
Bennett’s office said last week that he instructed the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), the Defense Ministry body responsible for liaising with the Palestinians, to ban the entry of Palestinian fruits and vegetables into Israel in response to a PA boycott of cattle from the Jewish state.
“The minister’s decision was made after months of repeated attempts by the security establishment to negotiate a solution to the cattle crisis, which has caused severe harm to the cattle-growing sector in Israel and the collapse of hundreds of farms,” Bennett’s office said in a statement on Friday.
PA Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh declared in September 2019 that the Palestinians would prevent cattle for slaughter from Israel from being imported into areas under their control.
But in December 2019, the PA ended its embargo on cattle from Israel after Israeli authorities agreed to allow the Palestinians to directly import cattle from abroad, set up a special cattle quarantine station and export eggs to Israeli markets, Tariq Abu Laban, the PA Agriculture Ministry’s director of marketing, said in a phone call.
A month later, though, the PA reversed course and banned the cattle imports again, Abu Laban said.
“Israel did not abide by the agreement,” he said. “So we stopped allowing its cattle into our markets again in January.”
The Israeli Agriculture Ministry declined to comment on Abu Laban’s statements and referred questions to COGAT, which did not respond to an inquiry.
Another PA official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that if Bennett walked back his decision to ban Palestinian agricultural products, Ramallah would also lift its embargo on Israeli fruits, vegetables, juices and bottled water.
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 sent some NIS 200 million ($58 million) of produce to Israel in 2018, Abbas Melhem, the director of the Palestinian Farmers Union, said in a phone call.
The main produce items that Palestinians export to Israel include tomatoes, potatoes, beans, cucumbers, peppers, onions and zucchini, Melhem said.
In a similar dispute in late 2018, Israeli and the Palestinians authorities temporarily banned some of the other’s goods from their own markets.