Who will a Palestinian boycott of settler economy really hurt?
PA has been burning settlement-made goods, and now there's a proposal to ban Palestinians workers.
One of the fascinating ideological debates in a settlement is whether to employ Palestinian workers in building a settlement or an outpost, so the land can be claimed as fast as possible. Those supporting the hiring of Palestinians believe it is best to take hold of the land quickly, so it can be redeemed quickly. The opponents argue it is best to promote spiritual values, which will lead to redemption.
However, steps taken by the Palestinian Authority in its war against the settlements may make the debate irrelevant. The PA has been burning goods produced in settlements, and now there is a proposal to ban Palestinians from working in settlements.
The settlement economy is mostly based on Palestinian labor. Palestinians not permitted to work in Israel are given such permits for the settlements. There are exceptions: Itzhar and Kfar Tapuah, for example, insist on Jewish labor. Otherwise, Palestinians can be seen working in nearly every settlement.
Based on data Israel delivered to donor states in September 2009, some 22,000 Palestinians have permits to work in settlements or in their industrial zones. However, various non-governmental organizations, like Kav La'Oved-Worker's Hotline for the Protection of Worker's Rights, say another 10,000 Palestinians work without permits, mostly as seasonal farm hands. In addition, inside the Green Line, an additional 26,000 Palestinians have work permits.
The total number of Palestinians employed in settlements and in Israel constitutes 9.9 percent of employed West Bank Palestinians.
One of those employing Palestinians is Yossi Kreuf, who has a workshop for woodwork and marble work in the settlement of Ma'ale Shomron. He has one permanent Palestinian employee and hires others as projects become available. "The heads of the Palestinian Authority want to cause a third intifada," says Kreuf. "The minute Palestinians do not enter the settlements, there will be a bunch of people who have nothing to eat and they will begin rioting," Kreuf told Haaretz. "In my community alone, 150-200 [Palestinians] are employed in construction. The worker employed by me tells me that the nation of Israel is the Chosen People, and that if there was no nation of Israel, they [the Palestinians] would be buried today," Kreuf adds.
According to the Ma'ale Shomron settler, "they say that if they worked only in the PA, they would starve to death." Kreuf says he would propose a counter-law to the PA proposal, that no product from the PA could be imported to Israel. "Then we will see how they like that," said Kreuf.
In the area of the Gush Etzion regional council, 1,000 Palestinians are employed permanently - and this is a period in which there is not much development.
The head of the local council, Shaul Goldstein, supports the employment of Palestinians. The new policy of the PA drives him mad. "I call this the optometrist approach - that means that with this approach they will finally open the eyes of the world, which will recognize what their [the Palestinians] real aim is. They have no aim to make peace. I had a meeting with one of the clan heads in the nearby villages, to see how we can cooperate, and they are afraid of the PA that wants to terrorize them. It drives me mad and angers me. [PA Prime Minister] Salam Fayyad, the allegedly moderate man, is the one who is burning products from the settlements and is promoting such policies," Goldstein says.
For the past four months, PA inspectors have taken confiscated settlement-made products to a storehouse in Salafit. Fayyad has taken photographs setting products ablaze.
In essence, this is a revival of an old campaign formula. The left-wing Gush Shalom group has been advertising for years a list of factories in the West Bank, and international organizations have set up Web sites asking the public to point out the existence of other factories in settlements.
The industrial zones are the soft underbelly of settlements, where rented spaces for businesses provide tax revenues for them. Overall in the West Bank there are 10 large industrial areas, and a similar number of smaller areas.
The biggest industrial area is in Mishor Adumim, with some 170 businesses operating there, including a winery, laundry service for hospitals in Jerusalem, a factory for spices and dry goods, a metal workshop, print shops, etc.
Another large industrial area is Barkan, where more than 100 factories cover an area of 1,300 dunams. One that is expanding is that of Ariel West. Ahva Ahdut invested NIS 35 million recently in a new plant for the production of tahini and halva.
The boycott of the products produced in the settlements is affecting revenues. The Lipski Factory, in the Barkan industrial area, is owned by Keter Plastics and the Fimi fund. They manufacture various plumbing and sanitation items. Twenty percent of their products are sold to the PA through a large Hebron-based business. During the last weeks the goods were repeatedly confiscated, and the customers stopped buying.
The PA went as far as to issue a leaflet showing photographs of the products that should be boycotted. "I am not here because I am a settler and not because I think that we should not evacuate [settlements] in a peace agreement," says Yehuda Cohen, who manages the company. "Every person living in the Middle East wishes they had my factory. I have 35 Palestinian employees who get all their social benefits. I send them to Amman on holiday. There are products in the PA that compete with ours, but I have a larger segment of the market than they do because of our quality," Cohen says.
"During the past two and a half months, we stopped selling. Yesterday, a customer who had bought a long time ago was given permission to sell the stock, but an inspector came in and confiscated all the goods. We managed to get the goods brought back to the factory. I recently began firing Palestinians, and I intend to let go of more. I hope that Keter Plastics will help me export more to their markets [abroad]. I am not telling you that I will leave tomorrow. But there is a board above me, and they can decide."