Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh launches an agricultural project in the West Bank on September 3, 2019. (Courtesy: PA Prime Minister's Office)

Palestinian Government To Invest Millions For Agricultural Independence (with VIDEO)

PA aims to end annual import of $16 million worth of Israeli fruit

As part of the Palestinian Authority’s efforts to disengage from the Israeli economy, the Palestinian Prime Minister’s Office launched in Qalqilya this week the $23 million Agricultural Cluster Program, a comprehensive development project to “independently produce Palestinian fruits and vegetables.”

“Qalqilya, Tulkarem and Jenin as well as Tubas [northeast of Nablus] must be the Palestinian basket of fruits and vegetables,” PA Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said at the launch ceremony in the presence of his team of ministers, as well as local and foreign officials and diplomats.

He added that $2.2 million had been earmarked for the restoration of artesian wells in Qalqilya, which currently has 76 wells but could only exploit 30 percent of their capacity.

“We will increase this ratio from 30 to 80 percent,” he said.

The Agriculture Cluster Program comes within the framework of the Palestinian government’s plan to promote national products, and to “strengthen the steadfastness of the Palestinian people on their land.”

Shtayyeh told The Media Line that budgets were allocated to enhance the presence of the Palestinian people in all parts of the West Bank, including in Area C.

“Land in Area C is not Israeli land. I call on each and every Palestinian to forget about [the separate status of] Area C,” he said.

Shtayyeh said that all of the West Bank belonged to the Palestinians, and that no future peace agreement would change this. “Any land that is arable, we will sow it in order to secure our ownership of it,” he said.

The 1993 Oslo Accord between Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization divided the West Bank into three areas. Under the agreement, Area A, where the Palestinian cities are located, is under the full control of the PA. Area B is under administrative/civil control of the PA, and security control of Israel. Area C, which makes up about 60% the West Bank – and includes most of the agricultural land and all Israeli Jewish communities – is under the full control of Israel.

PA Agriculture Minister Riyad Atari confirmed that the program would work to reclaim and prepare for use 5,000 dunums (1,235 acres) of land in the city of Qalqilya.

The Agriculture Cluster Program funding doesn’t come from the Agriculture Ministry budget, which amounted to NIS 150 million (about $42 million) in 2018, but from the central government, as its part of the latter’s strategy to develop economic sectors.

The PA plans to contribute to the program $4 million over three years, while the majority of the rest of the price tag would come through local and international partners.

Saleh Hasanen, a Palestinian farmer from Qalqilya, told The Media Line that any kind of financial or moral support would help people “move a step forward.”

“The Israeli incentives for Palestinian workers to go work in Israel are huge, the thing that makes the farmers leave their land and go work there,” Hasanen said. “Farming is important to protect the land.”

Hasanen noted that the new program would provide him seedlings. However, he said this was not enough. “Farming is very expensive, and the follow-up agricultural work requires time and continuity of support. Will the PA follow up?” he asked.

The Agricultural Cluster project in Qalqilya will plant 180,000 seedlings and aims to raise the harvest by at least 7%.

Palestinian Labor Minister Nasri Abu Jaish told The Media Line that 3,200 permanent jobs would also be created through the initiative.

“This plan is very useful for the Palestinian people,” Mohammed Odeh, a Palestinian farmer who moved back from Saudi Arabia to settle down in Qalqilya, told The Media Line.

Odeh said that the agricultural sector was the most important one to support in order to expand the Palestinian economy. “Most of our land in the West Bank is agricultural. We don’t have petroleum or mineral resources,” he said.

The Agricultural Cluster Program will be followed with a Tourist Cluster Program in Bethlehem and an Industrial Cluster Program in Hebron.

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