- Associated Press - Thursday, February 20, 2020

JERUSALEM (AP) - Israel and the Palestinians said Thursday that they had reached an agreement to end an escalating trade crisis that had heightened tensions between the sides.

Israeli Defense Minister Naftali Bennett said in a statement that Israel would allow Palestinian agricultural exports after the Palestinians resumed accepting Israeli beef.

The Palestinian agriculture ministry said Israel had allowed the Palestinians to import beef directly from abroad without acknowledging whether the Palestinians had agreed to accept Israeli beef as well.

The ratcheting down of the trade crisis comes as tensions between Israel and the Palestinians are high following the unveiling last month of President Donald Trump’s Mideast initiative, which is hugely favorable to Israel. The Palestinians have rejected the plan outright.

The trade crisis erupted in September, when the Palestinians decided to stop importing beef from Israel. The Palestinian Authority claimed most of the 120,000 head of cattle they imported monthly from Israel was itself imported and they therefore preferred to import directly from abroad. The move appeared aimed at reducing the Palestinians’ economic dependence on Israel.

Shortly after the September announcement, Israeli cattle ranchers saw a drop in their market and pressured Israeli authorities to take action. Bennett retaliated with a ban on Palestinian beef and other products, triggering the Palestinians to expand their boycott, and stop importing Israeli vegetables, fruits, beverages and mineral water.

The Palestinians said their actions were aimed at pressuring Israel into revoking its ban, while Israel said normal trade would be restored the moment the Palestinians reversed the cattle ban that sparked the crisis.

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