Israel should continue its civilian policy toward the Gaza Strip, a military source said on Sunday, arguing it gave Hamas an incentive not to join the latest round of fighting with Islamic Jihad militants in the Strip.
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The source added that Israel is weighing additional benefits for residents of the Strip, beyond the ones restored right after the fighting subsided a week ago.
The decision from before the latest fighting to increase the number of work permits for Gaza residents to 20,000 has strengthened Gaza's economy and put pressure on Hamas not to take actions that would lead Israel to take measures against the Palestinian population, said the military source.
Before the last year, Israel often imposed economic sanctions on Gaza residents in response to aggressive actions on the part of Hamas. These sanctions included closing the border crossings between Israel and the Gaza Strip, preventing its workers from entering Israel, and reducing the size of its offshore fishing zone.
Defense officials say that in spite of the serious damage to the lives of civilians in Gaza, in practice these actions benefitted Hamas economically. For example, closing the Kerem Shalom crossing led to a major increase in goods entering Gaza from Egypt through the Rafah crossing.
The taxes paid by the importers and exporters operating through the Rafah crossing are transferred directly to Hamas, as opposed to those operating at the Kerem Shalom crossing – where taxes go to the Palestinian Authority. But, at the same time, the relatively expensive costs of shipping and handling at the Rafah crossing have caused a rise in prices of basic goods in Gaza, which has severely harmed the lives of its residents.
According to defense officials, the easing of the restrictions placed by Israel on Gaza residents significantly improved their living standards. For example, while the unemployment rate in Gaza before Operation Guardian of the Walls was about 52 percent, before Operation Breaking Dawn this had fallen to 44.7 percent.
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Increasing the number of work permits from some 14,000 to about 20,000 contributed not only to an improvement in Gaza's unemployment rates, but also led to an additional increase in the average wage. Though the average daily wage in Gaza is up to 62 shekels, a Gaza resident who crosses into Israel for employment can earn 300 to 500 shekels for the same day’s work.
Proof of this economic improvement in Gaza can be found in the data on the passage of goods through the border crossings. According to these statistics, exports of goods from Gaza to the West Bank via the Kerem Shalom crossing rose by 27.7 percent, and 97.3 percent in exports of goods to Israel. Over the past year, the number of people passing from Gaza to Israel, and in the other direction, rose by 311 percent. While in 2020 122,400 people passed through the Erez crossing, this figure climbed to 163,000 in 2021. Additionally, an estimated total of 672,000 people are expected to pass through the crossing in 2022.
Work permits for Gaza women
Israel is now considering increasing the number of work permits for Gazans, as well as whether to allow Gazan women to work in Israel for the first time. Work permits are not important just for Gaza residents, but also for the Palestinian Authority. A civil administration operates in Gaza, headed by the PA, which is responsible for approving the names of the workers seeking entry to Israel – after they have been approved by the Shin Bet and IDF.
As of now, about 250,000 requests have been submitted – but many were rejected because of a number of applicants' family ties to individuals involved in terrorism. The civil administration’s operations enable a PA presence in the Gaza Strip, and improves its standing among Gaza residents. However, Hamas is not pleased by the administration’s activities because it argues that PA officials mostly approve requests of people who are identified with Fatah, and reject the requests of those identified with Hamas.
Defense officials admit that providing the benefits to Gaza residents could very well be a sensitive issue in relations between Israel and the PA. PA officials may wonder how Israel can ease up on people living in an area which is under the control of Hamas, an organization that declares it wants to destroy Israel – compared to the residents of the West Bank, the region where the PA is in control – and which has abandoned the path of terrorism and coordinates with Israel on questions of security.
“The policy of separation between Gaza and the Palestinian Authority needs to be rethought during a period in which we are conducting campaigns in Gaza over an incident that occurred in the West Bank, and vice versa,” said a senior defense official.
As a result, it has been decided to increase the civil and economic benefits to residents of the West Bank too. For example, the number of workers who enter Israel every day rose to about 140,000 and the conditions for receiving a work permit have been made more flexible. These including reducing the minimum age for receiving a work permit in Israel to 27. In addition, a number of economic plans are now being examined — with the support of the United States — which aim to strengthen the Palestinian economy in the West Bank.