Israel adds 2,000 work permits for Palestinians in Gaza
The Israeli press reported on June 15 that the authorities intended to increase by 20,000 the number of work permits issued to West Bank Palestinians wishing to work inside Israel. Currently, some 100,000 West Bank Palestinians hold such permits.
On June 16, the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), General Ghasan Alyan, announced that following an assessment of the security situation, the Minister of Defense had decided to increase by 2,000 the number of permits granted to residents of the Gaza Strip to work and do business. in Israel. The total number of permits granted to Gaza residents to enter Israel for economic reasons will amount to 14,000. In his announcement, he noted that all civilian moves to the Gaza Strip are conditional on security stability term, and their expansion will be considered by assessing the situation.
These decisions are part of the government’s policy to improve the economic situation of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, especially after a year of relative calm on the Gaza border. But the timing of the decision is also tied to US President Joe Biden’s planned visit to Israel next month.
In fact, Israel is preparing a package of gestures and economic relief for the Palestinians ahead of the visit. Diplomatically, the government can offer Biden little. The coalition agreement determines that the diplomatic status quo would be maintained and that negotiations would not take place with the Palestinians. There remain the civil and economic spheres.
This week, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Barbara Leaf and her deputy Hady Amr visited Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA). The two traveled between Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Ramallah to meticulously prepare for Biden’s trip.
According to reports, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Civil Affairs Minister Hussein al-Sheikh have expressed their demands regarding the conduct of the visit and the diplomatic and economic results they expect from it, including an end to the opposition of Israel to give money to the PA.
Likewise, the Palestinians demanded a package of economic gestures, including relief from imports and exports from the Palestinian territories, more permits to enter Israel for Palestinian traders and businessmen, as well as a symbolic step allowing the presence of PA officials at Allenby Border Bridge with Jordan.
Israel has opposed a similar move in the past during the Oslo Accord negotiations, with its firm stance that full Israeli control must be maintained over border crossings for security reasons. According to reports, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is currently considering the request, with some options offered by the Ministry of Defense. Still, reports say he is unlikely to approve such a change.
While opposing any initiative that might signal a change in sovereignty, Bennett seeks to take steps that will improve the economic situation of the Palestinians. Foreign Minister Yair Lapid will soon present to the Diplomatic and Security Cabinet a plan for a series of additional economic measures, including increased export permits from the West Bank, and easing of normalization and trade, as well as an increase in the number of work permits in Israel.
At a June 15 press conference, Lapid said the goal was to improve the quality of life in the Gaza Strip, a step that will help calm the region and reduce tensions.
The plan includes permission to advance infrastructure projects, foremost among which is a desalination plant. The European Union has allocated tens of millions of euros for this in a new aid program for the Palestinians. Other measures Israel plans to take include increasing the number of work permits for Palestinians, increasing exports from the Gaza Strip, laying a gas pipeline for the new power plant and progress of the reconstruction of an industrial zone in Erez. The package is believed to be authorized by the Cabinet, and it will be presented during Biden’s visit to Israel.
As mentioned, increasing the number of work permits for Palestinians has been part of the government’s ongoing policy since its inception; some of these gestures are part of ongoing Israeli political measures since the creation of the government. COGAT’s announcement of an additional 2,000 work permits for Palestinians in Gaza is part of a proposal by Defense Minister Benny Gantz, already endorsed by the government, to increase the number of Gaza workers to 20,000 , that is to say that 6,000 additional permits will be granted in the coming weeks.
Regarding the West Bank, Israel plans to grant 20,000 additional work permits next week. The number of these permits will thus increase to 120,000, most of them in the fields of construction and agriculture.
According to reports, the idea is to increase the number of workers entering Israel with a permit in a supervised manner and to reduce the number of illegal workers, i.e. workers who enter without a permit and work in Israel. . Every Palestinian worker who enters Israel with a permit is subject to a security clearance process by the security establishment in order to monitor workers entering Israel.
In the latest wave of terrorist attacks in March and April, when Palestinians and Israeli Arabs killed 19 Israeli citizens and injured dozens, Palestinian workers with permits were either prevented from going to their workplace, or preferred not to get there. In a few of the cases, Israeli mayors have prevented workers from entering, ostensibly to give residents of their towns a sense of security.
The Israel Builders Association dismissed this phenomenon at the time, saying that Palestinian workers allowed to work in construction and infrastructure are vetted by the security establishment before receiving work permits. They are skilled workers who come to work every day in Israel to earn a living.
The economic significance of increasing the number of Palestinian workers is great. The average salary for a skilled Palestinian worker in Israel is 6,000 to 7,000 Israeli shekels ($1,740 to $2,030), three times higher than the average salary in the West Bank. The combined wages of Israel’s 140,000 West Bank workers (100,000) and settlements (40,000) amount to nearly a billion shekels ($290 million) a month and fuel the Palestinian economy. In the Gaza Strip, which suffers from high unemployment, the salary of workers working in Israel is six times higher than the average salary (according to Civil Administration data).
Does the equation of economy in exchange for peace and security in Gaza announced by Lapid in September 2021 work? It is not clear that the calm comes from the improving economic situation, but it is a fact that since June 2021, there have been very few incidents involving the Gaza Strip.