PA Plans ‘Arab Worker Freeze’

The PA is trying to freeze construction of homes for Jews by finding different work for Arab workers. An opportunity for Jewish labor?

Tzvi Ben Gedalyahu , | updated: 06:53

Arab worker at Beitar Illit
Arab worker at Beitar Illit
Israel news photo: Flash 90

The Palestinian Authority is trying to impose its own freeze on construction of homes for Jews in Judea and Samaria by finding alternative work for Arab workers. One source of new employment for PA workers is the fledgling PA army, which includes American-trained “policemen” and may be beefed up following the infusion of a $64 million grant from the World Bank.

The Netanyahu government has slapped a building freeze on new homes for Jews in Judea and Samaria but is allowing the continuation of work on hundreds of homes already in the process of being built.

Arab construction workers have been the backbone of Jewish building projects for decades and were a strong factor in the PA economy, which boomed after the return of Judea, Samaria and Gaza to Israel in the Six-Day War in 1967 brought about the building of thousands of new homes for Jews. The Arab Intifadas forced most Jewish contractors to drastically cut the number of Arab workers, resulting in a deep recession in the PA, particularly in Gaza, as well as a surge of foreign workers in Israel.

Photo: Jewish construction workers   A rebirth of the concept of Jewish labor has slowly emerged, but Jewish contractors have complained that they cannot find enough Jews willing to engage in non-skilled construction work.

If the PA succeeds in carrying out its freeze of approximately 22,000 Arab laborers working in Judea and Samaria, the demand for Jewish labor, resulting in higher wages, may bring about an increase in their employment.

The settlements are completely dependent on cheap Palestinian labor for their infrastructure," Arab activists Jamal Juma told The Media Line, a Middle East news website maintained by a group of Arab and Jewish journalists. "So I think we can really hurt the settlements if all Palestinians stop working there."

PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad met last week with Arab activists seeking to prevent Arab workers from appearing at Jewish building sites, according to the website.

"Salaam Fayyad was clear in saying that he will deal with this seriously," Juma, the director of the Stop the Wall campaign who attended the meeting with Fayyad told The Media Line. "I hope they will prioritize this but if they don't, they will be held responsible. There is no way to justify a Palestinian working in settlements while Palestinians are resisting the ‘occupation’, the Israeli land grab, the wall and all the humiliation that's going on," he said.

Suha Barghouti, a member of the Palestinian Non-Governmental Organizations Network's steering committee, said that preventing Arabs from working on Jewish homes is conditional on finding alternative jobs.

Dr. Oussama Kanaan, the International Monetary Fund's Chief of Mission for the West Bank and Gaza, argued that the issue “is not really an economic one but rather has to do with international law, and under international law the construction of settlements and any expansion of them is illegal."

One source of funds for the new PA effort may be part of the $64 million recently promised by the World Bank, whose officials said the objective is to establish institutions to help the PA prove it can exist as an independent country. Some of the funding will come from Sweden, Denmark and the German development bank.