The Paris Protocol concerning economic ties between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, signed in 1994, cemented Palestinian dependence on the Israeli economy. Israel not only sets the import standards and VAT rate for the Palestinian Authority but also offers Palestinians attractive employment options.
According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, more than 120,000 Palestinians from the West Bank were employed in Israel and in Israeli settlements in mid-2017. Of these, some 70,000 had a work permit, about 44,000 did not, and the rest had an Israeli identity card or foreign passport. Some 80% worked in construction and the rest worked in agriculture and various industries. Israeli jobs are sought after in the West Bank as they promise relatively high wages, social rights under Israeli law, and the reasonable work conditions compared to the West Bank.
Yet the letter of the law does not always translate to the field. The government oversees employer deposits of social welfare payments on behalf of Palestinian workers, but does not enforce the transfer of funds to the intended recipients. According to the Worker’s Hotline, an Israeli NGO that helps Palestinian workers fulfill their social rights, pension agreements are unfulfilled and few Palestinians receive the benefits that are supposed to be ensured them by funds docked by employers for sick days. Although the state collects health insurance payments directly from Palestinian workers’ salaries, the insurance provides coverage in the Palestinian Authority only, and reimbursement of emergency care needed in Israel is only given retroactively, subject to restrictions.
The structural inequality between occupier and occupied has further ramifications for Palestinian workers. Thousands of Palestinians undergo rigorous inspections at checkpoints every day, waiting for hours in long lines and overcrowded conditions. Anyone wishing to enter Israel for work, studies or medical treatment has to set out very early in the morning and undergo this arduous process, at an accumulated cost to their physical and mental wellbeing. Over time, this impairs quality of life for them and their families and disrupts community life. Moreover, Israeli employers serve as a long arm of the state for monitoring Palestinians for potential security risks. Work permits are issued under the employers’ names, leaving Palestinian workers dependent on their good graces. Unsurprisingly, the result is that private employers and manpower agencies throughout Israel and the West Bank charge Palestinian laborers outrageous commission fees, ranging between NIS 1,500-2,500 (USD 420-700) a month.
The function of these work permits is primarily to sustain the occupation. Many Palestinian laborers are refused permits on security or criminal grounds (the latter mostly pertaining to arrest for entering Israel without a permit), or due to not paying debts such as fines. Yet not all those who are arrested pose a threat. According to the Worker’s Hotline, when permits are denied on security grounds, this is largely because of a risk to the status quo, not to national security. Withholding the coveted ticket to an Israeli salary is a useful way to recruit collaborators and maintain an atmosphere of fear and uncertainty. Indeed, many Palestinians who are refused entry by the Israel Security Agency (ISA, or Shin Bet) manage to get the decision overturned quite easily. Often, filing an appeal in court is enough for the ISA to withdraw its refusal, with no need for a hearing.
The dependency on Israel is also suffocating the Palestinian economy. The unemployment rate among Palestinians in the Occupied Territories is currently 29%. According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, the average daily net wage for a Palestinian worker in the West Bank is NIS 95 (USD 27), as opposed to NIS 230 (USD 65) for Palestinians working in Israel. Palestinian employers simply cannot compete with the Israeli market. With laborers in Israeli settlements earning more than their academic counterparts, many young Palestinians are forgoing a higher education and vying for permits to work in Israel.
Palestinians are busy racing on a daily treadmill governed by Israel and its interests – a situation hardly conducive to building up a stable civil society or a functioning economy. Hit hardest by are the younger generation of Palestinians who, unlike their parents, care less about Israel and more about standing on their own two feet in an independent society.
Israel shares the blame for this state of affairs with the Palestinian Authority, which is running a slick, corrupt operation at the expense of its citizens.