Should Israeli Labor Laws Apply to Palestinian Workers in West Bank?

Workers are being exploited, but left-wingers suspect that enforcing Israeli law will gradually pave way for annexation, rather than defend labor rights.

Palestinian workers help construct a new housing development at Ma'aleh Adumim, an Israeli settlement on the West Bank, on Dec. 16, 2009.

Will Israeli labor laws protecting workers be applied to Palestinians working in Area C in the territories?

This Sunday Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon will hold a meeting on the matter, which has caused outrage among leftist activists. They claim that implementing Israeli labor laws constitutes a creeping annexation of Judea and Samaria.

Justice Ministry officials have been debating the issue for months. Area C constitutes territories under full Israeli military and civilian control, but when it comes to labor laws that part of the West Bank has become a Wild West.

TheMarker published an article in May revealing that Palestinian laborers working for Israeli employees in the Jordan Valley were earning eight shekels an hour, and receiving neither a pay slip nor social benefits.

Theoretically, an order by the Civil Administration in the territories is supposed to enforce Israeli labor law, but no one is bothering with enforcement. One reason is that implementing Israeli law in occupied territories is liable to be viewed as creeping annexation. Meanwhile, the workers, both Israelis and Palestinians alike are hurt by the lack of enforcement.

Finance Minister Yair Lapid is to provide an update on the subject, including implementation of the minimum wage law and the law governing work and rest hours. Some leftist activists remain convinced the proposed change is a cynical move aimed not at improving the welfare of Palestinian laborers but rather at annexation.

MK Michal Rozin (Meretz), who chairs the Knesset foreign workers committee, announced that she would convene an urgent hearing on the matter in committee next week. She noted that MK Orit Strock and her Habayit Hayehudi faction are behind the push to enforce Israeli labor law over the Green Line.

“Is Habayit Hayehudi for Palestinian rights? You’re kidding me,” she said. “Implementing labor laws in Judea and Samaria is a significant step en route to fulfilling Habayit Hayehudi’s vision to annex the territories and stymie the two-state solution.”

She added, “We won’t let the far right-wing government approve such a step through the back door.”

If labor laws are enforced over the Green Line, they will be enforced differentially, predicts Dror Atkes, a leftist activist who tracks Jewish settlements in the West Bank and meets regularly meets with Palestinian workers.

Noting that it is Habayit Hayehudi leader Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, who is in charge of enforcing labor laws, Atkes anticipates that Bennett “will ensure there is 100% enforcement regarding settler employees in the West Bank, while thousands of Palestinians employed in the settlements will continue to be exposed to the laws of the jungle.”