Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Shekel surplus encumbers Palestine

Shekel surplus encumbers Palestine

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Shekels are piling up in the Palestinian territories, amid a reluctance by Israel’s central bank to take them back. AFP

Shekel surplus encumbers Palestine

Palestinian businesses flush with too much Israeli cash – it may not be the most talked about aspect of the occupation, but experts warn it is a growing concern for the Palestinian economy.

Palestinians in the West Bank use the Israeli shekel but, beyond that commonality, the two financial systems are dramatically different.

In Israel, as in many advanced economies, digital payments are rapidly growing, taking the place of transactions once done with bills and coins.

But in the West Bank, a territory under Israeli military occupation since 1967, cash is still king.

Tasir Freij, who owns a hardware store in Ramallah, told AFP he now has to pay a two per cent commission to deposit paper money because his bank is reluctant to receive it.

“This is a crisis … and we are feeling its effects,” Freij told AFP.

Much of the paper money is brought in by the tens of thousands of Palestinians who work inside Israel or Jewish settlements in the West Bank, and who get their wages in cash.

Experts and business people say the build-up of hard currency risks stifling the Palestinian financial system.

Freij fretted that buying goods from abroad typically requires converting shekels into foreign currencies, especially dollars or euros, but the abundance of shekels in the market has forced him to accept painfully unfavourable rates.

The Palestinian Monetary Authority (PMA), which functions as the central bank in the West Bank, has warned that paper shekels are building up because it has no way to return the hard currency to Israel.

PMA governor Firas Melhem told AFP that the cash build-up was “a very worrying problem”, causing headaches for banks and businesses.

“If the problem is not resolved quickly, the Palestinian market will turn into a dumping ground for the shekel,” he added.

The shekel was established as the official currency in the Palestinian territories as a result of economic protocols known as the Paris agreements that followed the Oslo Accords between Israel and the Palestinian Territories.

Much has changed since those 1994 agreements.

As they lean more on digital transactions, Israel’s banks no longer want to reabsorb paper cash that accumulates in the West Bank but does not circulate rapidly through the Israeli economy.

The Bank of Israel cited security as another reason.

“We stress that uncontrolled cash transfers could be misused, especially for money laundering and terror funding, and would not be in compliance with international standards on the prohibition of money laundering and terror funding,” the bank told AFP in a statement.

Palestinian banks have tried to encourage customers to moderate their cash deposits, but that risks limiting the capital available to banks, which would lower their ability to offer loans.

The cash surplus predicament has fuelled renewed calls from some Palestinian experts in favour of ditching the shekel, either in favour of a unique Palestinian currency or that of another nation, including the Jordanian dinar, which also circulates in the West Bank.

The PMA is also pushing the Bank of Israel to take back more hard currency.

But Melhem stressed that Palestinians also needed to “keep up with developments in financial technologies”, and move towards more cashless payments.

MOST VIEWED

  • Prince Norodom Ranariddh passes away at 77

    Prince Norodom Ranariddh, the second son of the late King Father Norodom Sihanouk and former First Prime Minister of Cambodia, has passed away in France at the age of 77. “Samdech Krom Preah Norodom Ranariddh has passed away this morning in France just after 9am Paris-time,”

  • Cambodia purchases 4 million Molnupiravir tablets

    Cambodia has arranged for the purchase of four million US-made Molnupiravir pills – enough to treat 100,000 Covid-19 patients – even though the current rate of daily infections in Cambodia remains low. The medicine will be distributed to state hospitals, pharmacies and private clinics, according to the Samdech

  • Rise in planned flights lifts travel hopes

    Six airlines have applied to resume flights in December, while two others have put in for additional flights and routes, according to State Secretariat of Civil Aviation (SSCA) head Mao Havannall on November 29. These account for 43 new weekly domestic and international flights in December, up 16

  • Is Cambodia’s travel sector in for another cheerless holiday season?

    The travel and tourism sector was heaving back to life as borders started to reopen, promising a festive vibe for the holidays and New Year. But Omicron and other Covid-related issues are threatening to close the year on a bleak note ‘Seems [like] Covid-19 won’

  • Cambodia, Thailand to discuss border reopening

    Cambodian authorities from provinces along the Cambodia-Thailand border will meet with Thai counterparts to discuss reopening border checkpoints to facilitate travel, transfer of products and cross-border trade between the two countries. Banteay Meanchey provincial deputy governor Ly Sary said on November 22 that the provincial administration

  • Cambodia planning new border checkpoint at Thma Da

    Cambodia is looking into the possibility of opening a new Thma Da Border Checkpoint with Thailand to boost trade and tourism. The Ministry of Public Works and Transport said on December 4 that Minister of Public Works and Transport Sun Chanthol led a technical working group