Opinion |

The Threat of Palestinian Laborers' Frustration

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Namir Mahmoud.
Namir Mahmoud.

The relationship between the residents of Har Adar and the Arabs who made their way every morning from Beit Surik to do menial labor in their homes may have seemed like a very cozy arrangement, but was actually a poisoned chalice. We should not delude ourselves into thinking the terrorist act by a Beit Surik resident was a singular incident. It reflects something of a feeling of frustration and resentment among Arab laborers that is likely to accompany their daily sojourn to Har Adar from Beit Surik and back again in the evening.

That feeling, no doubt, is shared by the tens of thousands who make their way to Israel day by day, humiliated by standing in long lines waiting to be checked before they may enter. For them it is an economic yet unpleasant necessity.

And for Israel it is a source of cheap labor. Israelis, Jew or Arab, aren't prepared to do the work they do for the compensation they receive. Without them the cost of living in Israel would go up considerably. Of course, Israel has the alternative of substantially increasing the number of foreign workers employed in Israel, but then Arabs from the territories would find no alternate employment. So what about them?

Security forces at Har Adar after the terrorist attack, September 26, 2017.Credit: Emil Salman

That question is answered by the theory that the income they earn in Israel tends to keep a lid on terrorist activities originating in the territories. In other words, this arrangement is presumably good for everyone in the short run.

The source of the problem is the vast disparity between Israel’s economy and the Palestinian economy. Israel is an economic success story. It attracts workers from far-away places in Africa and is the obvious destination for Palestinians looking for work. The Palestinian economy in Judea and Samaria (not to mention the Gaza Strip) is an abject failure despite the massive contributions the Palestinian Authority receives from abroad. As a result, daily access to Israel draws Palestinian laborers, not to mention thousands of illegal worker, like a magnet. Relatively small numbers of Palestinians have obtained employment in the rich Gulf states, while the economies of neighboring Arab countries cannot provide the employment opportunities that Israel can offer. The distance to Jordan for many Palestinian villages or towns is no larger than the distance to Israel, but Palestinian workers are not streaming in that direction for obvious reasons.

The seemingly obvious way to deal with this economic imbalance is to create employment opportunities in Judea and Samaria. That takes investments. The PA has yet to attract such investments from abroad. Who is prepared to invest there? Actually, Israel has been prepared to do so. Industrial zones located in Judea and Samaria have provided an opportunity for Israeli companies to establish themselves there, creating employment opportunities for Palestinians living near-by. On the face of it, this seems a better solution than the daily trek into Israel by Palestinian workers. There is only one catch; it clashes with the political stand of the PA, which objects to any kind of Israeli presence in Judea and Samaria – whether settlements or industrial zones – and is prepared to sacrifice the economic interests of the Palestinian population in its quest to keep Israelis out of the area.

A good case in point is the Soda Stream factory, originally located in the Mishor Adumim industrial zone near Maale Adumim, in which hundreds of Palestinians were employed. The company, whose products are sold worldwide, was pressured to relocate the plant to Israel. It was a “victory” for the Palestinians, even as the workers lost their place of employment.

There is a better way to relieve unemployment among the Palestinians in Judea and Samaria than having tens of thousands make their way into Israel in the early hours of the morning only to return home in the evening, better for Israel and better for the Palestinians.