Photo Credit: Hassan Jedi/Flash90
Arab farm workers with strawberries, December 3, 2019.

Security officials on Sunday morning criticized Defense Minister Naftali Bennett’s decision to stop the entry of fruits and vegetables from the Palestinian Authority, suggesting “this pushes us to a breakup with the PA and the deterioration of the situation,” Channel 12 reported.

Saturday night, Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas threatened to sever ties with Israel, including the security coordination between the two entities. The same security officials told Channel 12 that so far there is no evidence on the ground of the feared deterioration in the relationship, but Bennett’s decision to ban imports of PA fruits and vegetables into Israel is another step in the direction of severing civilian ties, which will result in immense damage, both to the trade between the PA and Israel, and to the security cooperation.

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On Friday, DM Bennett posted on Facebook: “A boycott will be answered with a boycott. Following the ongoing Palestinian boycott of Israeli cattle growers, I instructed the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories to stop the imports of agricultural produce from the PA starting this Sunday at 6:00 AM.”

“The ongoing Palestinian boycott of Israeli cattle growers has resulted in the collapse of hundreds of farms and the entire industry. After repeated attempts by the defense establishment to resolve this with a dialogue, and after a series of warnings, I instructed the Coordinator of Government Operations in the Territories, Major General Kamil Abu Rokon, to stop the imports of agricultural produce from the PA to Israel starting at 6:00 this Sunday,” Bennett repeated.

“If by Sunday the PA removes the boycott, there would be no need to stop agricultural imports,” Bennett concluded, adding, “I believe in free trade and an open economy. The boycott on the cattle growers began several months before I took up the post of defense minister, and we made several attempts to solve it using a positive approach, but to no avail. When they remove the boycott – we will resume the imports.”

In mid-October, the Palestinian Authority decided to stop importing calves from Israel, dealing a severe economic blow to Israeli growers, who must continue feeding the calves beyond the usual schedule – with heavy economic consequences.

Two PA officials, Intelligence chief Majid Faraj and Minister of Civil Affairs Hussein a-Sheikh, have appealed to Chairman Mahmoud Abbas to reverse the boycott decision, but Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh warned in closed talks that he would resign if he were forced to fold under Israeli pressure.

Bennett’s decision to challenge PM Shtayyeh could result in revoking entry permits for some 100,000 PA residents working in Israel. This would immediately impact the Israeli construction industry, and impoverish the PA economy almost overnight. At which point, traditionally, the PLO in Ramallah channels some of the newly unemployed into carrying out terrorist attacks inside Israel.

The Defense Ministry issued an announcement Sunday morning, saying that, in accordance with Minister Bennett’s directive, agricultural imports from the Palestinian Authority had ceased.

“The Minister’s decision was made after months of repeated attempts by the defense establishment to resolve the calf crisis, which has led to severe and ongoing damage to the cattle growing sector in Israel and the collapse of hundreds of farms in the industry,” the ministry said, noting that “when the Palestinian Authority refused to stop the ‘permits’ system, which has allowed the PA to restrict trade from Israeli growers and significantly reduce the volume of imports, Minister Bennett instructed the Coordinator of Government Operations in the Territories, Major General Kamil Abu Rokon, to immediately halt the import of agricultural produce from the Palestinian Authority into Israel.”

“When the Palestinian Authority chooses to stop its unilateral moves and restore the situation to its former state, the defense minister would reconsider his decision,” the announcement said.

Last year, Israeli exports to the PA reached close to $4 billion, while imports stood at $900 million.

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