Palestinian Authority says it’s in talks with Israel to end trade spat

PA Economy and Agriculture ministers say international mediators helping shepherd talks after Jerusalem and Ramallah take tit-for-tat measures to ban imports

Adam Rasgon is the Palestinian affairs reporter at The Times of Israel

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

Palestinian officials confirmed Wednesday that Ramallah and Jerusalem were holding talks via international interlocutors aimed at ending a trade tiff that has led both sides to ban exports from the other.

Palestinian Authority Economy Minister Khaled al-Osaily and Agriculture Minister Riyad al-Atari said the talks were seeking to reverse Israel’s ban on Palestinian agricultural exports, the official PA news site Wafa reported.

The ministers made the comment in a meeting with Palestinian businesspersons from the West Bank and Gaza Strip at the PA Economy Ministry’s headquarters in Ramallah, where they discussed the ongoing trade dispute with Israel, the Wafa report stated.

Officials in the PA Agriculture Ministry did not immediately respond to an inquiry about the identities of the international mediators.

Israel’s Agriculture Ministry declined to comment on Osaily and Atari’s remarks.

Defense Minister Naftali Bennett recently ordered Israeli authorities to stop allowing Palestinians to export agricultural goods to Israel. He also later directed them to bar Palestinians from sending goods abroad through the Allenby crossing between Jordan and the West Bank.

Israeli officials have said that Bennett’s moves to prevent Palestinians from exporting agricultural goods came in response to the PA’s decision to boycott cattle for slaughter from Israel, which they said has caused significant economic harm to Israeli cattle farmers.

The PA, meanwhile, said it has instituted a ban on a number of Israeli goods in response to Bennett’s decision to bar Palestinian exports to Israel.

Palestinians exported around $100 million in agricultural products in 2018, including dates and olive oil. About half went to Israel while the rest was sent to other countries, according to Tareq Abu Laban, a senior official in the PA Agriculture Ministry.

Illustrative photo of Palestinian farmers (photo credit: Issam Rimawi/Flash90)

Palestinians usually import around seven times the amount of agricultural products from Israel than what they export to Israeli markets, Samir Abdullah, a researcher at the Palestine Economic Policy Research Institute-MAS, said in a phone call last week.

Palestinian Authority Prime Mohammad Shtayyeh declared in September 2019 that the Palestinians would prevent cattle from Israel from being imported into areas under their control. At the time, he said that the move was part of an effort to make the Palestinian economy less dependent on the Jewish state.

But in December 2019, the PA ended its embargo after authorities agreed to allow Palestinians to directly import cattle from abroad, set up a special cattle quarantine station and export eggs to Israeli markets, Abu Laban said in an interview in early February.

A month later, however, 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.”

Israel’s Agriculture Ministry also declined to comment on Abu Laban’s statements and referred questions to the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, the Defense Ministry body responsible for liaising with the Palestinians, which did not respond to an inquiry.

In a similar dispute in late 2018, Israeli and the Palestinians authorities temporarily banned some of the other’s goods from their own markets.

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