Palestinians display grapes during a festival in the West Bank city of Hebron in 2016. (Wisam Hashlamoun/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Of Fruit & Lamb: Trade War Brewing Between Israelis And Palestinians

Palestinian officials allege that Israel is ‘dumping’ lower-priced lamb imports on the West Bank, hurting local producers

Israeli soldiers reportedly briefly detained Palestinian Agriculture Minister Sufian Sultan in the West Bank earlier this week, the culmination of recent tensions over an ongoing trade dispute.

Israeli Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel recently announced that Jerusalem would no longer import Palestinian-grown fruits and vegetables. The move followed the Palestinian Agriculture Ministry’s decision a few weeks ago to halt shipments of Israeli lamb into Palestinian Authority (PA)-controlled areas.

“I will not allow any unilateral violation of the [trade] agreement [with the PA], or any such breach as we have seen in this case. We will respond very firmly. We must return to the pact as it is and respect it,” Ariel wrote in a press release.

In response, Palestinian officials warned they would block additional Israeli products from entering the West Bank, sparking fears of a full-blown trade war.

Tareq Abu Laban, Director of Marketing at the Palestinian Ministry of Agriculture, confirmed to The Media Line that further action will be taken although “it is not yet decided what products will be barred in retaliation for this unjustified decision.”

Israeli lamb imports were stopped as part of an “anti-dumping” effort, which is sometimes undertaken when an import, in this case meat, is purposely priced lower than the same product produced in the Palestinian territories, Abu Laban explained.

“What we did is done by economies all over the world,” he asserted, denying that the move violates any trade arrangement with Israel. In this respect, the prohibition relates only to lamb imported by Israel from other countries and then redirected to the West Bank.

The Israeli restrictions, by contrast, will harm the Palestinian economy as the sale of produce generates up to $250,000 of revenue daily, Abu Laban contended.

A source within Israel’s Agriculture Ministry who asked to remain anonymous told The Media Line that “the issue is not about a ban. It is about an agreement that one side violated. We will resume importing Palestinian produce when the PA stops blocking imports of Israeli lamb.”

The economic tensions come at an expedient time for Israeli farmers, whose numbers have been dwindling in recent years. Many oppose importing produce from other areas because they cannot compete with these goods as they are often less expensive than domestically-produced ones.

Israeli growers face higher production costs than elsewhere, including prices for water. In 2016, thousands of farmers protested outside the Israeli parliament against what they perceived as an increase of imports of foreign crops, among other issues.

Some analysts believe that fair trade between Palestinians and Israelis can provide both sides with gains beyond just the financial ones.

In an article titled, “Economic integration in the Middle East: Israeli‒Palestinian fresh food trade,” a team of researchers argued that “[trade] relationships can counteract segregation and decrease conflict potential,” leading to greater chances for “political reconciliation.”

With no end to the conflict in sight, however, the breakdown of trade relations could divide the sides even further, creating additional barriers to overcome during any potential negotiations.

“Hopefully there will be a resolution. Maybe the Israeli Agriculture minister doesn’t have the desire to resolve it, but we believe the prime minister and other levels of Israel’s government have the will to do so, hopefully,” Abu Laban concluded.

(Tara Kavaler is an intern in The Media Line’s Press and Policy Student Program)

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