Palestinian Building of Israeli Settlements: Searching for Alternatives
By: Fadi Abu-Saadi
Published Thursday, February 16, 2012
Calls by the Palestinian Authority to stop Israeli settlement activities continue to ring hollow as little is done to find alternatives for Palestinian workers who contribute to settlement building with their sweat and money.
Ramallah – The continued expansion of settlements in the West Bank remains the primary concern for Palestinians in their struggle against Israeli occupation.
But the bitter irony is that the laborers physically engaged in building the settlements are themselves Palestinians. In addition, they are obliged to pay money to Israel in exchange for permission to work.
A recent study aimed at discussing alternatives to working in Israeli settlements notes that upwards of 35,000 Palestinians work in the settlements. These workers pay 23 Israeli shekels (US$6) daily for special permits in order to enter the settlements and work there.
According to Khalid Mansour, the coordinator for a campaign to boycott Israeli goods in Palestine who conducted the study, this means that these workers collectively pay no less than US$210,000 per day in order to work in the settlements.
In a conversation with Al-Akhbar, Mansour discussed possible alternatives for Palestinian workers, pointing to a pilot project that saw an investment of US$2 million in Palestinian agriculture that allowed 450 Palestinian workers to return to tilling their land.
As for other alternatives, Mansour says that infrastructure projects, possibly on roads and waterworks would provide Palestinians employment opportunities while building up the country.
He laments the fact that more Palestinians have not responded to the call to stop working in the settlements, since a boycott was launched two years ago.
“The wages of [Palestinian] workers in Israel are higher than the wages that the same workers receive when they work in Palestinian areas,” he explains.
Mansour also discussed the related issue of unemployment in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. He calls it a chronic problem tied to the government’s flawed economic policies.
He acknowledges the struggles of the boycott campaign to impact Palestinian markets. He says Palestinians spend US$4 billion annually on Israeli products, even though there are generally Palestinian alternatives for most products.
If Palestinians were to stop working in the settlements, then settlement activity would come to an end one way or another, thus meeting the “condition of the Palestinian Authority to resume talks,” according to Mansour.
Israel has already tried finding alternatives to Palestinian labor, such as importing laborers from Asia, with little success.
Ending Palestinian employment in the settlements would also cut off tens of thousands of dollars of daily support for the occupation in the form of permit fees.
However, it appears that the ultimate problem lies in the inability of the Palestinian Authority to provide the necessary incentives to lure worker away from working for the occupation.
Economic analyst Khalil Assali explained that the solution to the problem of Palestinian employment in the settlements is labor and social services legislation.
Such reforms will allow unemployed workers to continue to receive a simple living wage on the condition that they are retrained in an available profession to work in the local job market.
He also says that since the majority of Palestinian workers in the settlements come from the countryside, the government should encourage land reclamation, cultivation, and investment in the agricultural sector.
Assali also points to the lack of an industrial sector in Palestine, saying that there must be efforts to revitalize struggling industries. This would require a political decision to encourage investment in this sector.
Economic analysts also talk about a need to address the issue of the disparity in price between Palestinian and Israeli goods. As just one example, one kilogram of chicken, which costs 5 Israeli shekels (US$1.30) in Israel, sells for more than twice that price in Palestine. This makes Palestinian consumers easy prey for Israeli goods.
Assali says that the only way the Palestinian economy can overcome its dependence on the Israeli economy is through increased imports and exports with its eastern neighbor Jordan and the Arab countries.
However, Palestine does not have control over its own borders and lacks access to maritime ports, making commerce difficult.
The most important thing in the eyes of many remains for the Palestinian public to carry out its responsibility to develop a real national strategy – both political and economic – and try to sever ties with all that is Israeli.
Palestinian economist Khalil Assali thinks that the Palestinian market is the largest market for Israeli products for several reasons. He points to its proximity and ease of access, in addition to a lack of sufficient regulations on the Palestinian side.
Also, the number of Palestinian consumers of Israeli products is always growing.
Meanwhile, according to Assali, Palestinian investors are accused of “using the banner of nationalism to market overpriced products that are low in quality,” despite competition from Israeli and foreign goods.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.