Tuesday, December 01, 2020

Is the Palestinian Authority’s ban on Israeli calves exploiting Palestinians?

By Yehudit Tzfat - November 11, 2019
Section: [Main News] [Features]
Tags: [trade and diplomatic relations]

Speaking at the opening of the Palestinian Industries Exhibition 2019, Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said disengaging from Israel’s economy is not a slogan, but part of a strategic effort to boost Palestine’s economic openness to the world. 

On 9 September, Shtayyeh announced a ban on Israeli calves as part of the prime minister’s ongoing initiative to disengage from the Israeli economy. More than two months later, Shtayyeh is touting the ban’s success for the Palestinian market amid economic challenges and uneasiness from Palestinian farmers. 

The prime minister was not available for comment before publication. 

“It is not just a slogan that you make just to disengage from Israel, we are still under occupation,” Abbas Milhem, Executive Director of the Palestinian Farmers’ Union, said. “There are complications and challenges that would face any decision to disengage from Israel because Israel would not allow that.”

Milhem emphasised that any decision to break away from the Israeli economy should be thoroughly studied before implementation and all possible outcomes carefully planned for. But he doesn’t think the Palestinian government has done the necessary preparation. 

“From what we have seen from the latest decision, we are not prepared for that because everything is stuck in Israel,” Milhem said. 

According to Milhem and Tareq Aimassri, the Undersecretary for the Ministry of National Economy, Israel is preventing the imported calves from entering Palestine and cancelled Palestinian traders’ import permits. The Palestinian Authority (PA) has not received official declarations from the Israeli government stating they are taking retaliatory measures to the PA’s ban, but Aimassri said Palestinian traders are being told a different story. 

“A trader told me he was informed that all import permits that were approved by the Israeli side are cancelled right now,” Aimassri said. “Israel comes and says, 'Everything is cancelled as part of our retaliation.’” 

Aimassri said the prime minister is considering suing Israel in the international courts for the alleged retaliatory actions. Other rumoured retaliatory measures by Israel include the Jewish state banning Palestinian exports of dates and olive oil, which Milhem said is making Palestinian farmers nervous.

“We’re shaking. All people are shaking now,” Milhem said. “What will happen with this decision? Is it going to continue or will it be stopped because of the complications imposed by Israel?”

The Ministry of National Economy and the Federation of Palestinian Chambers of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture said the cost of beef is not rising. Dr Yousef Nasser, an economics professor at Birzeit University, said the price of beef isn’t increasing dramatically. However, it’s the cost for meat-sellers to purchase the beef that is skyrocketing. 

“My butcher said the price only went up by NIS 5, from NIS 50 ($14.30) a kilo to NIS 55 (nearly $15.75) a kilo, whereas the cost for butchers to buy beef went up by 15.8 per cent,” Nasser said. “So his profit has gone down by 15, almost 16 per cent.”

Milhem said Palestine has enough calves to last until the end of the year, but after that, no one is certain what the next steps might be. 

For Aimassri, Palestinians can survive without beef and the more important issue is the Palestinian spirit and new generations seeing Palestine resisting. 

“We can live without beef. This is not part of the food security because there are a lot of substitutes including lamb and poultry,” Aimassri said. “But it will harm the Palestinian psychology if we oblige to do whatever Israel decides for us. This is more important than having red meat in the market.”

Yet the prevalence of these substitutes is what concerns Milhem. 

“When it was announced, we smelled something we did not know,” Milhem said. ”What is behind this decision? Why is it happening so fast?”

Milhem is worried that this plan to disengage with the Israeli economy will end up monopolising the Palestinian meat industry. 

He explained that to import from outside of Israel, Palestinian farms will need massive infrastructure to keep a significant influx of calves. Milhem believes only a few companies are prepared to hold large numbers of livestock. Business firm Palestine Development and Investment, Ltd. (PADICO HOLDING) is one of the companies Milhem is concerned might end up dominating the market. 

Currently, the organisation manages Palestine Poultry Company “Aziza”, which with the possibility of beef eliminated from Palestinian grocery stores, could become the main meat source. Additionally, he believes PADICO HOLDING has the infrastructure to keep thousands of calves now. 

But Nazeeh Mardawi, Director of the Information Department at the Federation of Palestinian Chambers of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture, is confident that a monopoly will not occur.                      

“Even the importers could not preserve the whole amount of calves in their farms. They might distribute it to small farmers,” Mardawi said. 

Milhem, though, is trying to read behind the decision to determine who this is serving. Amid his doubts, he emphasised that the Palestinian Farmers’ Union is supportive of the prime minister’s intention to resist the occupation, but the plan’s lack of practical measures is where the problem lies. 

“Emotional decisions are good for a short period of time. They will tug at the hearts of people,” Milhem said. “But applying these decisions on the ground is more important.”


Lead image: Al-Monitor/REUTERS

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