The head of the unit for Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), Maj. Gen. Rassan Alian, notified top Palestinian Authority leaders on Wednesday that Israel plans to augment the number of Palestinians permitted to work in places governed by Israeli law by 16,000.
The additional West Bank Palestinian labor being brought on will work either in construction or in Israel’s hospitality sector.
According to an Israeli security official who asked to remain unnamed, there are 90,000 Palestinians currently working in Israel and 30,000 more who work in West Bank settlements.
The workforce expansion would bump to 136,000 the quota of Palestinian workers earning a living in Israel and West Bank settlements.
The addition of more Palestinian workers is contingent on approval from the Israeli government, which is projected to be granted by next week.
“In the conclusion of a long administrative work, and as part of a comprehensive move to strengthen the economic ties between Israel and the PA, a decision has been made to increase the quota of Palestinian workers in Israel. This measure will strengthen the Israeli and Palestinian economies and will largely contribute to the security stability in the area of Judea and Samaria,” Alian said in a statement issued Wednesday, using the biblical term for the West Bank. “Economic stability is the key to preserve the security in the region.”
Alian also indicated that, following a discussion between Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz and PA President Mahmoud Abu Abbas, further measures will be taken in order to strengthen the economic ties between Israel and the PA.
My family needs to eat. I cannot provide for them working in Ramallah.
The latest employment development received a mixed reaction in the Palestinian community.
Abdel, a construction worker in the Baka neighborhood of Jerusalem, believes that the extra employment opportunities will be good for Palestinians in general.
“The salaries in Israel are higher than the same work in the Palestinian territories. God willing, my brother will be hired,” he told The Media Line through an interpreter.
Abdel has previously worked in the same sector in the West Bank, both in Palestinian- and Israel-controlled areas.
“My family needs to eat. I cannot provide for them working in Ramallah,” he said, noting that while some of his extended relatives disapprove of him working in Israel, they especially oppose working in Jewish settlements.
“Survival is more important than politics,” Abdel said, in response to this negative reaction.
When it comes to Palestinian labor, Israel has tried to balance potential security risks and the need for inexpensive labor with fluctuating quotas based on the circumstances on the ground, lowering the number of Palestinian workers allowed to work in the country during violent periods such as the first and second intifadas.
In a system where entry into Israel and the West Bank is governed by work permits, some workers have been subjected to abuse, like being denied entry into Israel for health care after an on-the-job injury nullified their work permit.
“If Israel brings these workers in, it has to safeguard their safety (as well as the) labor rights of Palestinian workers,” said Adi Maoz, executive director of Kav LaOved – Worker’s Hotline, an organization that seeks to protect all workers in Israel and to advocate for the full application of the country’s labor laws. The organization does not take a position on Palestinian workers, she told The Media Line.
However, one major area of concern for the organization is union protection, especially for Palestinians in the construction sector.
“Protected by collective agreements and expansion orders in the construction industry, and over the years, tens of millions of shekels were deducted from their wages and redirected to the Histadrut [General Organization of Workers] as union fees,” Maayan Niezna writes in a 2018 Kav LaOved report on the employment of Palestinian workers in Israel. “The Histadrut offers the workers individual consultation, but not organizational assistance against entities such as the Ministry of Finance and the Payment Department of the Population and Immigration Authority.”
(Felice Friedson contributed to this report)