Agricultural relations between Jordan and the West Bank have
undergone significant transformations during the past four decades.
Trade between the two sides was completely free until 1967, and
surplus produce from both of them was further transported to other
neighboring Arab countries without important obstacles.
Following the onset of Israeli occupation in June 1967, trade
across the bridges was restructured in accordance with Jordanian
and Israeli policies. On the Jordanian side, it was demanded that
each consignment carry a certificate of origin and a permit from
the Ministry of Agriculture. Permits are issued in accordance with
local needs, and dates of entry are adjusted so that they do not
compete with Jordan's local produce. The number of lorries
permitted entry into Jordan was restricted to that which was in
operation prior to June 1967.
On the Israeli side, the bottom line of their policies in regard to
agricultural trade across the bridges is that imports from Jordan
are practically banned, while exports are free, and often actively
promoted. But traffic across the bridges has been burdened by a
complex set of regulations which impede normal and efficient flow
of produce. The fees levied on lorries are so high and "security"
checks are so elaborate and clumsy that transportation costs have
soared to abnormal levels (around $70 per ton). Besides, empty
boxes are not permitted re-entry into the West Bank, presumably on
security grounds, thereby entailing a significant rise in marketing
Exports - Rise and Fall
Despite numerous regulatory obstacles, agricultural exports to and
via Jordan rose to high levels during the earlier half of the
occupation era, mainly because Palestinian produce was still in
high demand. Such export markets as Jordan, Iraq and Iran absorbed
enormous quantities of Palestinian produce up until the early
eighties. But things have started to change rapidly since the
mid-eighties, mainly in response to a sharp rise in production in
Jordan. Furthermore, the volume of exports, especially of citrus,
has severely declined as a consequence of the Iran-Iraq war.
More importantly still, Palestinian farm produce has been steadily
losing its competitiveness in the Jordanian markets. This has been
ultimately an outcome of a wide range of superior natural
attributes and positive developments in Jordanian agriculture, as
opposed to severe restrictions and constraints confronting the
Palestinian agricultural sector. For instance, Jordan enjoys a much
superior land topography and a relatively more abundant and cheaper
supply of irrigation water, and Jordanian farmers enjoy the
benefits of a much more vigorous system of supportive services. All
these comparative advantages have led to a substantial growth in
Jordanian agriculture, as well as to a pronounced rise in its
productivity (see Appendix for comparative indicators on
agriculture in Jordan and Palestine).
The relative competitiveness of Jordanian farmers is further
bolstered, vis-a-vis those in Palestine, by a lower price structure
of production inputs. For instance, wages and the price levels of
irrigation water in Jordan are less than one-third their levels in
Palestine. Furthermore, the level of supportive marketing services
accorded to Palestinian farm produce (e.g. grading, packing,
storage, transportation) is noticeably lower than in Jordan, and it
has failed to catch up with rising market standards. In addition,
Jordanian agriculture is supported by a modern system of physical
and institutional services which is far more developed than those
in Palestine, such as roads, communication, water projects,
planning, research, credit extension and cooperatives.
The aforesaid transformations in the production and marketing
system have resulted in a sharp decline in the volume of fruits and
vegetables shipped across the bridges which has dropped from
224,000 tons in 1984 to an average of 44,000 tons during 1990
Possibly, some of the factors which bring about a decline in the
competitiveness of Palestinian produce in Jordanian markets can be
ameliorated in the future, such as easier traffic, lower cost of
transportation across the bridges and improved marketing services.
Yet, because of numerous attributes, production costs in Palestine
will stay considerably higher than in Jordan. This will severely
weaken the competitiveness of Palestinians in Jordanian and Arab
markets. Indeed, should trade with Jordan be freed in both
directions, considerable amounts of produce might start flowing
from Jordan into Palestine.
This study concludes that Palestinian producers have a long way to
go in order to improve their competitiveness in neighboring Arab
markets. Specifically, they should attempt to reduce the cost of
inputs, raise their productivity, improve marketing services, and
diversify their production patterns. But even then, they cannot
hope for more than modest exports to Jordan and other Arab markets.
In contrast, Palestinians can possibly enjoy ample opportunities in
the Israeli market, should restrictions on entry to that market be
lifted and subsidy policies in Israel be abolished.
In addition to maintaining a limited yet important level of exports
to neighboring Arab markets, cooperative relations between
Palestine and Jordan can be initiated and vigorously promoted in
the following areas:
1. Procurement of production inputs, such as fertilizer, fuel,
pesticides, and nylon sheets. This will help correct the trade
deficit with Jordan, and stimulate Jordanians to have a more
cooperative attitude in relation to imports from Palestine.
Furthermore, this will help reduce production costs on the
2. Establishment of stronger coordination with the Jordanians in
all institutional areas relating to agriculture. In particular,
cooperation is imperative in relation to planning of production
patterns, so that surpluses are minimized.
3. Promotion of active cooperation in the areas of research and
technology transfer. Both sides can learn a lot from each other,
especially in view of the tangible differences in growth patterns
of their agricultural sectors during the past two decades.
4. Lastly, and probably most importantly, by embarking on
cooperative water policies, Jordan and Palestine can reap
substantial benefits. This is a high priority which has to be
explored at length and before more time is wasted.
This is a summary of a study recently published by the
Center for Palestine Research and Studies in Nablus. The original
is in Arabic.
Al-Qadi, Abdel Fattah. A Study of the Ghor in the East Bank of
Jordan (Arabic). Amman: Department of Agricultural Economics,
Awartani, Hisham. Artesian Wells in the Occupied Palestinian
Territories (Arabic). Jerusalem: The Palestinian Hydrology Group,
Israel. Israel Central Bureau of Statistics. Judea, Samaria a/ld
Gaza Statistics. Jerusalem: 1993. Jordan. Department of Statistics.
Annashra al-Ihsa'iah al Sanawiyyah (Statistical Yearbook).
---. The Central Bank of Jordan. Annual Report. Amman: 1992.
---. Department of Agricultural Economics. Annual Report. Amman:
The United Nations. Conference on Trade and Development.
Palestinian External Trade under Israeli Occupation. Geneva: 1989.