The number of work permits allowing Palestinians to work in Israel was raised recently to its highest level since the start of the second intifada in 2000. In addition, Israel has begun allowing construction materials into the Gaza Strip for use by the private sector.
Those are two of a series of economic measures approved by Israel in the past few days, against the backdrop of the peace process and Israel’s efforts to assist Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) in his internal conflict with Hamas. The measures were recommended by the defense establishment.
At its weekly meeting last Sunday, the cabinet approved the recommendation to grant 5,000 additional work permits to Palestinians from the West Bank, raising the number of those who have permanent work permits to 48,000. Another 3,000 Palestinians have permission to work temporarily in Israel to help with the olive harvest and 27,000 more Palestinians work in industrial zones in the West Bank and in settlements. According to various estimates, at least another 30,000 residents of the West Bank work in Israel illegally. Thus, about 100,000 Palestinians rely on jobs in Israel for their livelihood.
The number of work permits has soared from 33,000 to 48,000 in less than two years and is now at its highest level since 2000. Israel has also lowered the age of eligibility for receiving a permit to 24-years-old, providing that the applicant has a family of his own. About 5,000 Palestinians have permits to stay in Israel for work-related reasons. Israel’s willingness to take these measures reflects the calm security situation in the territories and the reduced number of attempted terror attacks originating in the West Bank.
Other measures announced by Israel include the opening of the Allenby Bridge for an additional two hours every day, the convening of a Joint Water Committee with the PA for the first time in a long time and an increase in the amount of water provided to the West Bank by four million cubic meters per year. A new water pipe will be installed in the Gaza Strip, doubling the annual amount of water that arrives from Israel from five to 10 million cubic meters.
Cement, iron and construction materials will be allowed into Gaza for the first time in years for the private market. Israel had restricted the entry of these materials into Gaza for fear that they would be used to construct Hamas fortifications.
Israeli officials say that these measures were taken at the request of Abbas and deny that they were coordinated with Hamas. The Israeli measures in Gaza, like those in the West Bank, are intended to strengthen the PA’s status in the strip. Egyptian restrictions on traffic at the Rafiah crossing point and its crackdown on the smuggling of goods through the tunnels have created terrible financial pressure in the Hamas-ruled area.
Officials of the PA’s donor countries will hold their annual meeting in New York next week, under the auspices of American Secretary of State John Kerry, who helped restart the direct talks between Israel and the PA. The Israeli delegation to the conference will be led by Maj. Gen. Eitan Dangot, the coordinator of government activities in the territories.