Palestinian plan for economic disengagement faces Israeli threats

Palestinian government’s plan for economic disengagement from Israel faces grave challenge, including Israeli threats to impose sanctions on the Palestinians.

The plan comes in line with the resolutions of the Palestinian National and Central councils to suspend the recognition of Israel, until it recognizes the state of Palestine on the borders of 1967.

Palestinian Minister of Economy Khaled Oseily told Xinhua that the steps are considered “a firm Palestinian right,” and the government seeks to “diversify the sources of its imports, which is stated in the Oslo Accords.”

The Oslo Accords is an interim peace agreement signed between the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and Israel in 1993.

Oseily said that the Palestinian Authority (PA) has received “unjustified threats” by the Israeli government, “particularly following the decision to stop importing livestock from Israel.”

He pointed out that the Palestinian government will take measures that will decrease the expenses on Palestinians and break the Israeli monopoly on imports into the local market.

The government does not aim at “boycotting Israel,” he stressed, but diversifying its sources for the benefit of Palestinian consumers, strengthening the commercial exchange with neighboring countries like Jordan, Egypt and Iraq.

Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Ishtaye held a series of visits to Jordan, Egypt and Iraq to discuss means to enhance economic ties in the past four months, where he signed a number of memorandums of understanding, hoping to start the gradual economic disengagement from Israel and boost Arab relations.

Against that backdrop, Israeli media outlets reported that the Israeli government is mulling a series of steps to pressure the Palestinian government to retract its decision to stop importing livestock from Israel.

The steps reportedly include suspending approvals to allow the access of aid to the Palestinians, and preventing the export of olive oil and dates from Palestine to nearby Arab countries.

According to data by the Palestinian Agriculture Ministry, Palestine imports around 120,000 livestock from Israel annually, which makes up around 60 percent of the Palestinian market.

Last month, the Palestinian government decided to stop importing a number of items from Israel, including a full stop of importing livestock, saying it is part of its economic disengagement plan.

In the wake of the decision, the Israeli coordinator of Israeli government’s activities in the occupied territories Kamil Abu Rukon said in a press statement that the move will have “grave consequences.”

He threatened to stop the access of the Palestinian agricultural products to Israeli markets. Israel is one of the major importers of Palestinian agricultural products in the West Bank, with an exchange size of almost 280 to 300 tons daily, according to local media.

Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Malki said that “if Israel prevents us from imports and exports, we will resort to international mediation.”

Malki highlighted that the economic Paris protocol, which governs the relations between the Palestinians and the Israelis, states that Palestinians have the right to import.

He said that the Palestinians will present the case in various international platforms, while undermining Israeli threats which he described as “fragile.”

The Paris protocol is an economic treaty reached in 1995 between Israel and the Palestinians, whereby Israel collects the taxes from the Palestinian trade and pays it back to the PA.

The Palestinians reached an agreement with Israel this August to release the fuel taxes that Israel collects on behalf of the PA, which was seen as a serious step toward disengagement.

Economist Jafar Sadaqa said that the agreement has allowed Israel to release some 2 billion shekels (566 million U.S. dollars) of withheld Palestinian tax revenues, noting that this is the largest resources in the Palestinian treasury.

He said that overriding the Israeli imposed taxation mechanism may lead to an essential change that could allow actual economic disengagement.

The PA’s economic disengagement plan has come in light of a severe financial crisis after Israel decided in February to cut off 12 million dollars monthly from the tax revenue dues that Israel deems the PA pays to the families of those who have been killed or imprisoned by Israel for carrying out anti-Israel “terrorist acts.”

Earlier this month, the PA accepted a payment of the tax revenues, saying that it is still in negotiations over the deducted parts.