An Israeli cowboy herds beef cattle on the Golan Heights in November 2013. (Uriel Sinai/Getty Images)

Israel, PA End Trade War

Palestinians claim Israelis have lifted ban on direct import of cattle

Israel and the Palestinian Authority announced on Thursday that they had reached an agreement to end a six-month agricultural trade dispute that began over restrictions on the import of cattle.

The development came after days of “intense negotiations” that involved “international” mediation, according to Khaled Al-Osaily, the PA’s minister of national economy, who added that the terms of the understanding will take effect on Sunday.

“The Israeli side has backed off from its decision to ban the export of Palestinian agricultural products and end its illegal measures to prevent the direct import of calves from global markets,” Osaily told The Media Line.

In return, the Palestinians announced that they were halting their boycott of Israeli-raised or imported calves.

Last September, the PA significantly reduced the number of calves imported from Israel as part of Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh’s policy of economic disengagement.

In a statement issued on Thursday, Israeli Defense Minister Naftali Bennett said the Palestinian calf boycott “has been lifted, and trade with the PA will be restored accordingly.” The Defense Ministry is responsible for much of Israeli policy regarding the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

On February 2, following months of failed negotiations over the cattle boycott, the ministry began blocking Palestinian goods from entering Israel. The Palestinians retaliated by banning the importation of Israeli produce, soft drinks and mineral water, which in turn was followed by an Israeli decision to block the export of Palestinian goods via Jordan.

Giving more details, PA Minister of Agriculture Riad Al-Atari said the agreement would allow Palestinians to freely import calves from abroad within 40 days, necessitating the establishment of quarantine infrastructure.

Tareq Abu Laban, the PA’s deputy minister of agriculture, told The Media Line that “Israeli restrictions on imports from abroad have been lifted.” He added that Palestinians will turn to Israeli cattle ranchers and dealers only to make up for shortages in direct imports.

Mohammad Khabeisah, a Palestinian financial expert, told The Media Line that the trade war ended in “close to a draw.”

He explained that the agreement “ends the Israel monopoly” on selling calves to the PA, although the impact will not be felt anytime soon because few Palestinian cattle dealers have the buying power to import from international markets in numbers that make it economically feasible.

“The Israeli calf market will continue to be the main source for meat for Palestinians for the foreseeable future,” he said.

Palestinians in the West Bank send over two-thirds of their farming exports to Israel, whose Agriculture Ministry says the calf boycott affected some 400 Israeli cattle ranchers and dealers, costing them some $70 million since October. Nevertheless, it is believed that the ban was most difficult for Palestinian farmers, who tend to have small businesses.

Palestinian trade with the world exceeded $7.5 billion in 2018. That year, bilateral trade between the PA and Israel hovered around $4.5 billion, while Palestinian imports from Israeli markets accounted for $3.7 billion.

Palestinians send about $60 million in fresh produce to Israel each year while buying more than five times as much from the Israeli side, noting that an additional $100 million is spent on bottled water and soft drinks.

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