Palestine Pulse

Jordan continues olive exports to Israel despite objections

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Article Summary
Some Jordanians condemn the country's export of olives to Israel, saying it hurts the local economy while helping Israel.

Some Jordanians want their country to stop exporting olives to Israel, citing political and economic reasons. Jordan officially opposes Israel's occupation of Palestinian territories, and many of its citizens are of Palestinian origin. Those protesting olive exports say the practice is a form of normalization and benefits Israel, which resells the produce under Israeli brand names.

Manaf Majali, a Jordanian dentist and member of the Jordanian Anti-Normalization Committee, told Al-Monitor that exporting olives to Israel goes against Jordan's national interests. 

"This is a crime against Jordan and Palestine, and a gift to Israel," Majali said. In addition to the political aspect, exporting raw olives hurts the local economy, as Jordanians would otherwise be hired to run local presses to process the fruit.

Rand Haddadin, spokesman for the Jordanian Ministry of Agriculture, rejected the committee's claims, saying Jordan exports very little of its olive production to Israel.

“Last year, we produced 180,000 tons of olives and this year, we are expecting to reach [252,000 tons]," he told Al-Monitor. "The amount exported to Israel last year was less than 3,000 tons and this year the amount will be about the same."

Hneifat estimated in September that of this year's olive production, 201,000 tons will be pressed to make 36,000 tons of oil. About 50,000 tons will be pickled, he said.

Jordan's olive harvest runs from October through November and most of the produce is consumed locally. A 16-kilo (35.2-pound) container of olive oil is expected to sell for 80 Jordanian dinars ($112) this season. Shoppers told Al-Monitor that a kilo (2.2 pounds) of olives is selling for 10 dinars ($14) in the farmers markets.

Abdel Rahman Ghaith, a board member of the Jordan Exporters and Producers Association for Fruit and Vegetables, told Al-Monitor that exports do affect the local economy. "While olive exports to Israel are about 3% to 5% of the total production, we believe they have had a negative effect on prices," he said, adding that most of the olives exported to Israel are for table use. He insists that if fewer table olives are available in Jordan, their price will rise there.

The government, however, has said Jordan produces plenty of olives to satisfy local demand and exports to Israel.

Ghaith noted that while Jordan does have a peace treaty with Israel, he is personally opposed to the sale of olives to the country. According to Ghaith, some of those sales are arranged by Palestinian-Israelis who work with Jordanian farmers and Israeli companies. "They come to the Jordanian farmers long before the harvest and offer to pay a deposit in advance. This is very tempting to farmers who are in need of the cash."

Haddadin told Al-Monitor that the ministry will not hinder olive sales to Israel, saying, "In general, we do not put any restrictions on the exports of agricultural products. We actually try to encourage it because it is good for the farmers and for the national economy. We will not make an exception of the sale of olives to Israel."

Jordan has about 20 million olive trees. According to the Jordanian National Center For Agricultural Research and Extension, 36% of Jordan's agricultural land is used to cultivate olive trees. Hneifat said olives provide a source of income for 20% of Jordanian. About 80,000 Jordanian families benefit from the annual olive harvest and olive products generate a total annual income of about $145 million.

Israeli daily Hamodia reported Oct. 27 that Israel has decided to increase the amount of olive oil it imports without taxes or other fees by as much as 2,000 tons over three years, bringing its total duty-free olive imports to about 35% of Israel's total olive oil consumption each year, which is estimated at roughly 20,000 tons. Israeli Economy and Industry Minister Eli Cohen hailed the decision, saying it is expected to reduce the price consumers pay for olive oil. Israel's usual duty on imported olive oil is roughly a third of its market price.

Daoud Kuttab is a Palestinian journalist, a media activist and a columnist for Palestine Pulse. He is a former Ferris Professor of journalism at Princeton University and is currently the director-general of Community Media Network, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to advancing independent media in the Arab region. On Twitter: @daoudkuttab

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