Israeli-Palestinian trade war deepens
Beyond rockets and air strikes, Israel and the Palestinian Authority have been fighting another kind of battle. A month after U.S. president Donald Trump unveiled his controversial Middle East plan, the conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Authorityhas now reached a state of full-blown trade war.
On 12 February, the Palestinian Authority led by President Mahmoud Abbas hailed "a victory for International law" as the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCR) office released a list of 112 companies it said are complicit in violating Palestinian human rights by operating in Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank.
This first-ever international attempt to name and shame businesses was slammed as "shameful" by Israel, where officials fear the list could be used to boycott firms. The move could add a new chapter to tensions with the Palestinian Authority.
Three days before the UNHCR report, the Israeli military ignited another battle as they announced the blocking of all West Bank agricultural goods, the Times of Israel reported. Following Defence Minister Naftali Bennet's press release on 9 February, the military said it would not allow Palestinian farmers to transfer products through the Allenby Bridge, West Bank's only direct export route to the world and its sole border with neighbour Jordan.
According to the Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), a unit of the Israeli ministry of defence responsible for the civil activities in the Palestinian territories, this was an immediate response to the "Palestinian boycott of veal, which has seriously harmed Israeli cattle farmers".
"This Place": photos of Israel and the West Bank
With his photo project "This Place", Frederic Brenner sought to provide a different insight into Israel and the West Bank. As part of the project, 12 international photographers present landscape and portrait photos that aim to contribute to the observer's understanding of the conflict region. The exhibition runs at the Dox Center for Contemporary Art in Prague until 3 March 2015. By Felix Koltermann
In his project, the French photographer and initiator of "This Place", Frederic Brenner, combines portraits of families and individuals with landscape photography. His monograph "The Architecture of Fear and Desire" is published by Mack Books in London.
Over the course of a number of years, the American photographer Wendy Ewald held participative photography workshops with groups of different ages in Israel and the West Bank. A monograph of her work entitled "This Is Where I Live" will be published by Mack Books in April 2015.
The Czech filmmaker Martin Kollar assembled images from military training camps and research facilities in Israel to create strange, dream-like sequences of pictures. An artist book entitled "Field Trip" is available from Mack Books in London.
In his photographs, the Czech artist Joseph Koudelka examines the separation barrier between Israel and the West Bank, which he depicts in rough-grained, black-and-white panorama shots. His book "Wall" is published by Aperture in New York.
The Korean photographer Jungjin Lee depicts the landscape of the region in alienated, large-format panorama pictures. Her book "Unnamed Road" was published last November by Mack Books in London.
For "This Place", the French documentary photographer Gilles Peress, who has an in-depth knowledge of the region, focussed on documenting the daily life of Palestinians in the district of Silwan in East Jerusalem. A monograph of his work is planned for 2015.
The American photographer Fazal Sheikh photographed the Negev desert in southern Israel from the air for his monumental project "Desert Bloom". His pictures map the incursions of the local population into the landscape. "The Erasure Trilogy", the monograph on his project, will be published by Steidl Verlag in 2015.
For "This Place", the legendary American photographer Stephen Shore focussed on urban spaces and the landscape in Israel and the West Bank. His monograph on the project, "From Galilee to the Negev", is published by Phaidon in New York.
The American photographer Rosalind Solomon, at 80 the oldest participant in the project, travelled across Israel and the West Bank by bus in search of motifs for her portrait series. Her monograph, entitled "Them", is published by Mack Books in London.
In his project, the German artist Thomas Struth combines large-format landscape pictures with interior photos, both of places of religious significance and of Israel's high-tech research landscape. His accompanying monograph is published by Mack Books in London.
The English photographer Nick Waplington's contribution to the project consists of an archive of portraits and landscape photos from Jewish settlements in the West Bank. His monograph "Settlement" is published by Mack Books in London.
For as negotiations with the Hebrew state fell apart in late 2019, Palestinians had decided in September to ban all Israeli calf from entering its territories, a surprise decision that saddled Israeli farmers with huge losses.
The veal ban is only part of a political, bureaucratic and economic "disengagement" strategy conceived by Abbas' Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh. Originally an economist, Shtayyeh is trying to push for higher independence for the Palestinian territories, whose economy is completely dependent on its Israeli neighbour – especially imports, exports and basic goods.
"We are exercising our natural right to diversify our markets, encouraging direct imports in order to strengthen our economy," Palestinian Economy Minister Khaled Al-Assili said on what the local media nicknamed the "calf war".
Under pressure by Israeli farmers, Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu retaliated: in early February, the Hebrew state banned all produce imports from the West Bank. The Palestinian Authority quickly struck back, banning multiple Israeli products from its territories, such as vegetables, fruits and beverages.
Deprived of their own ports and airports, Palestinians can only export products via Israel's ports, such as the Ashdod and Haifa ports, as stipulated by the 1994 Paris protocol regulating trade issues, where Palestinian products, including dates and olive oil, are then sent mainly to Europe and neighbouring Jordan.
The latest Israeli measures are "very dangerous", Palestinian Minister of Agriculture Riyad al-Atari said. "There will be negative effects, but the negative consequences will also affect the Israeli economy," he added.
Israeli and Palestinian economies are deeply intertwined, despite tensions. The latter imported $600 million worth of Israeli produce in 2018 – 71 percent of the sector's Palestinian importations, according to the latest data. According to the Palestinian ministry of economy, it also exported $88 million worth of produce to the Hebrew state – marking 68 percent of Palestinian exports.
As the 'calf war' is expected to continue, the Palestinian agriculture could be strongly impacted, with its produce prevented from reaching Israel, Jordan and world markets.
"We have asked the government to create an emergency fund to deal with this crisis and provide farmers with the means to resist," Abbas Melhem, director of the Palestinian Farmers' union, told journalists.
The Palestinian government seems to have heeded farmers' calls and announced urgent measures last week. It also intends to ask for international intervention and is considering bringing the case to international courts of justice, as well as the World Trade Organisation. All in order to interrupt what they call "the economic and agricultural Israeli war".
But apart from calling for the international community to react, the PA has very limited resources. In mid-2018, the U.S. cut $200 million of aid after President Abbas froze relations – a retaliation to Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's undivided capital. Then Israel cut $138 million of tax handovers to the PA on February 2019, further strangling its funds.
In 2018 and 2019, Palestinian territories' GDP growth has almost completely stalled around 1 percent, with an unemployment rate of 26 percent in 2018, according to the World Bank. The institution said the situation was "unbearable".
The only way out of this economic dead end would be to strengthen exports and services, the World Bank estimates – a highly unlikely situation for now, given the latest escalations in the trade war. (FRANCE24)