Security officials have warned that Defense Minister Naftali Bennett’s decision to halt all Palestinian agricultural imports from the West Bank could have major economic and security implications for Israel, according to a report Sunday.
“This advances us toward a total severing of ties with the Palestinian Authority and deteriorates the situation,” a security official was quoted saying by Channel 12 news.
An absolute cut-off in ties between Jerusalem and Ramallah would mean revoking entry permits for some 100,000 Palestinians working in Israel, which could have the power to bring the construction industry in the Jewish state — which relies heavily on Palestinian workers — to its knees, the officials warned.
They added that unemployment, combined with a frustration over Israeli policies, could lead many onto a path of violence.
Israel and the Palestinian Authority appeared to be on the brink of a trade war, after the Jewish state announced on Friday it was stopping all agricultural imports from the West Bank and Ramallah threatened to respond.
That ban went into effect on Sunday morning.
The dispute is rooted in an October decision by the Palestinians to boycott cattle and sheep products, with the PA 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 bringing cattle to Bennett’s yard in Ra’anana last month to drive home their point.
In response, Bennett announced Friday he had ordered a halt to all agricultural produce imported to Israel.
“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.”
Bennett said Sunday that if the PA halted its ban, Israel would do the same.
Israel’s Kan public broadcaster reported Friday 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 Kan.
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.
On Saturday, Abbas said he was cutting all ties, including security coordination, with both Israel and the US, in a lengthy speech delivered at an Arab League meeting in Egypt’s capital denouncing the new White House plan.
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 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