Palestinian and Israeli farmers pay the price as politicians bicker

by Reuters
Thursday, 6 February 2020 11:11 GMT

A Palestinian man uses a tractor to plow a field in the village of Al-Jiftlik near Jericho in the Israeli-occupied West Bank February 5, 2020. Picture taken February 5, 2020. REUTERS/Mussa Issa Qawasma

Image Caption and Rights Information
The West Bank currently sends over two-thirds of its farming exports to Israel

By Adel Abu Nimeh and Rami Amichay

JERICHO, West Bank/BE'ER TUVIA, Israel, Feb 6 (Reuters) - Israel and the Palestinian Authority have opened a new front in their decades-long conflict by getting locked in a trade dispute - and farmers on both sides of the border are paying the price.

Palestinian Mowafak Hashim, who farms fruit and vegetables in sun-baked Jericho in the occupied West Bank, says he supports moves by the Palestinian Authority (PA) to end imports of Israeli agricultural products.

But he also fears the breakdown in a usually smooth-running cross-border trade relationship will ruin his business.

"I won't find alternative markets... since the (Israeli) occupation controls the checkpoints", said the 51-year-old, referring to Israel's control over the West Bank's border crossings.

The PA announced a boycott of Israeli calves in October. Last weekend Israeli Defense Minister Naftali Bennett said he would halt all PA agricultural imports, which in turn prompted the PA to say it would end imports of Israeli agricultural products, fruit juice and bottled water.

Those tit-for-tat moves have frayed trade links that have generally held strong since the two sides signed interim peace accords in the 1990s, even weathering the collapse in 2014 of peace negotiations.

The actions of the PA, whose power base is in the West Bank, in part reflect greater efforts to end what its leaders - including new Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh - see as an over-dependence on Israeli markets.

A second Palestinian farmer, 54-year-old Hisham Qutaishat, concurs with that approach.

"The PA should start a comprehensive national and strategic plan to connect the needs of the Palestinian market to what Palestinian farmers produce," he said.

"That way, we will not fall victims to any (Israeli) decision like this in the future."

But in the meantime, with the announcement of U.S. President Donald Trump's Middle East peace plan further fuelling bilateral tensions, producers on both sides are suffering.

The West Bank currently sends over two-thirds of its farming exports to Israel, whose agriculture ministry says the calves boycott has affected around 400 Israeli cattle breeders, costing them a total of $70 million since October.

In Be'er Tuvia, a southern Israeli agricultural village, cattle farmer Guy Golan said he sells around 400 calves annually to the Palestinian market, earning him 2.5 million shekels ($725,000).

"This boycott hurts our business very, very much ... The cows go on and give birth, and the young calves, they're not able to go anywhere," Golan said.

"We can't buy and we can't sell, everything is stuck.".

(Reporting by Adel Abu Nimeh in Jericho and Rami Amichay in Beer Tuvia with additional reporting by Ali Sawafta in Ramallah, Ari Rabinovitch in Jerusalem and Rami Ayyub in Tel Aviv; Writing by Rami Ayyub; Editing by Stephen Farrell)

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.