Israel-Palestine trade returns to normal after months of boycotts

A Palestinian farmer feeds calves and cows at a cattle farm in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip (Eyad Al Baba - APA Imaged)

Middle East Monitor  /  February 20, 2020

Trade between Israel and Palestine has returned to normal after the Palestinian Authority (PA) removed a ban on importing calves from the self-declared Jewish state today.

In response, Israeli Defence Minister Naftali Bennett notified the PA that restrictions on Palestinian agricultural exports had been removed, “after the ban on the Israeli farmers was removed”.

The move to diffuse an escalating trade crisis comes after talks between the head of the Coordinator of Government Affairs in the Territories (COGAT), Major-General Kamil Abu Rokon, head of Civil Administration Brigadier-General Ghassan Alian, and PA Agriculture Minister Tzachi Hanegbi.

The Palestinian agriculture ministry announced the immediate import of “livestock, including calves”, as well as “all products and commercial goods from all countries of the world without obstacles”.

Adding that the decision “came after a series of direct and indirect discussions through international parties, which resulted in Israel retracting its illegal measures”, in a statement yesterday evening.

The trade crisis started in September when PA Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh announced it would stop importing beef from Israel, as part of a drive to reduce Palestinian economic dependence on Israel.

The PA claimed that most of the 120,000 cattle it imported monthly from Israel were imported, and therefore they preferred to import directly from the source.

After cattle ranchers saw a drop in the market in January, farmers took calves to Bennett’s home to protest the boycott, calling on the defence minister to intervene.

Bennett said farmers no longer “[had] the money to continue to feed [their calves]”. Palestinian farmers also complained that they were suffered financial losses as a result of the ban.

As retaliation, Bennett banned Palestinian beef, and on 9 February, COGAT said it would refuse to allow exports originating from the occupied West Bank through the Allenby crossing, which connects Jordan to Palestinian territory.

Palestinian officials later expanded their boycott to include Israeli vegetables, fruit, beverages and mineral water.

The Palestinians claimed that their actions were aimed at pressuring Israel to revoke its ban, while Israel said normal trade would be restored as soon as the Palestinians reverse the cattle ban which triggered the back and forth measures.

The return to normal trade between the two comes as tensions remain high after US President Donald Trump’s Middle East “peace plan” was announced last month.

The deal, which is highly favourable to Israel, has been rejected outright by the PA, and sparked mass protests in Palestinian territories.