Ramallah, occupied West Bank – On March 22, the Palestinian Authority [PA] decided to impose a ban on the products of five Israeli companies in the Palestinian market.
The decision came in response to a recent Israeli ban, earlier this month, on selling dairy and food products of five Palestinian companies in occupied East Jerusalem.
In 2010, the Palestinian government issued a ban on goods made in settlements.
Since March 9, truckloads of Palestinian products were turned back at Beituniya Commercial Crossing, west of Ramallah, without any official explanation by the Israeli authorities. However, reports quoting unnamed Israeli officials claimed the Palestinian products did not meet the required standards.
Senior Palestinian officials said the Israeli ban was an arbitrary political decision. “Israel continues its attempts to isolate Jerusalem from its surroundings and blur its identity,” Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah said at the time.
Speaking to Al Jazeera, Palestinian businessmen affected by the ban said Israel uses certain evaluating forms to impede their access to Jerusalem. According to one businessman, Israel previously used the same pretext in 2010, but it was thwarted by international pressure, mainly from the quartet.
Palestinian agriculture ministry officials maintained that the forms in question, required by an Israeli law passed in 2005 concerning exported animal originating products, are used to cover up for a political purpose; namely to cut off Jerusalem from the rest of the occupied West Bank and treat it as Israeli proper.
The law, according to Palestinian officials, runs in contradiction with the Paris Protocol; an economic agreement signed in April 1994 as part of the Oslo Accords that defines nearly all economic relations between Israel and the PA.
Palestinian businessmen say their products are of high quality. “We have all necessary permits and licences [from the Israeli authorities]. Our products are tested on a daily basis in Israeli facilities,” Amir Haddad, the sales director at Hamudeh, one of the affected Palestinian dairy companies, told Al Jazeera.
Haddad has been running his business since 1989. His company mainly deals with Palestinians living in the occupied east Jerusalem, but has increasingly been facing difficulty to access Jerusalem as a result of countless checkpoints and crossings set up by Israel since the late 1990s.
If the Israeli ban continues, Palestinians estimate their annual losses to be around $300m.The losses on the Israeli part, as a result of the Palestinian ban, are also estimated at around $300m annually, according to Azmi Abdul Rahman, the PA’s Ministry of Economy spokesman.
“We targeted similar company with around the same market,” Abdul Rahman said. “We believe the boycott decision will reflect positively on the [Palestinian] market.”
The overall trade between Israel and the PA is estimated at $4bn annually, the majority of which are imports from or via Israel.
According to Abdul Rahman, new production lines were introduced during the popular boycott campaign in 2014, when Israel waged its war on Gaza. Investors threw their weight into the market and local factories profited, he said.
The decision was cautiously welcomed by activists in BDS, the campaign to boycott, divest and sanction against Israel, who said it was a result of relentless pressure on the government.
“It’s a step forward, but is not enough,” Fajr Harb, a BDS activist, told Al Jazeera. “The problem is that the decision is a reaction to the Israeli ban. We’ve yet to see how it will be implemented,” he added.
Not everyone shares that hope. Nicola Khamis has been the agent and distributor of Tnuva, the largest Israeli dairy company, for decades. He and other businessmen were notified they had ten days to sell their stock, but he says it was not enough. “At the push of a button, I’ve lost millions,” Khamis told Al Jazeera.
He blamed the PA for failing to approach the concerned agents before making the decision and said his employees and their families will be most affected. “No one is above the law. I respect the PA’s decision and will abide by it – I am licensed by the PA and I won’t turn into a trafficker,” he said.
The motivation may be different, but Khamis and Harb, the BDS activist, seem to stand on the same ground: an all-encompassing boycott needs to be in place.
“We have made immense progress with regard to boycotting normalisation activities,” Harb said. “BDS has made steps in the local market, but bear in mind we have a captive market, with security topping the PA’s priority rather than agriculture and manufacturing.”
Analysts believe this could be another opportunity for Palestinian companies to step in and cover the gap. “Palestinian products cover merely 20 percent of the market, the rest – around $4bn in goods – are imported from or via Israel.”
A recent study shows that the Israeli occupation imposes a $9bn price tag on the Palestinian economy, mainly due to continued damaging of infrastructure and restricting development as well as limiting access to natural resources – especially inArea C.
The next step towards breaking those chains, BDS observers argue, is to take serious steps towards a resisting economy – one that allows Palestinians to stand on their own feet, even if it meant fewer options on the shelves – that includes all Israeli products, not just settlement-made products.
“Israeli settlements are a product of the occupation and colonisation of Palestine,” Harb said. “Israel, providing for those settlements, should be boycotted too.”