Gov’t Plan Could Get 60,000 Palestinians Fired
JERUSALEM (AP) _ Economics Minister David Magen said Thursday he has won wide government backing for a plan under which tens of thousands of Palestinians would lose their jobs in Israel.
There are now 108,000 Palestinians from the occupied lands working in Israel. Under Magen’s plan, nearly two-thirds of them would lose their jobs.
The plan is designed to free jobs for Soviet Jewish immigrants and cut the number of Palestinians coming to Israel at a time of increased Arab attacks on Jews, said Magen adviser Eldad Halachmi.
Such attacks have been urged by leaders of the Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Last week, three Jews were stabbed to death inside an Israeli factory, and the Moslem fundamentalist group Hamas claimed responsibility.
″Employers now prefer Jewish workers instead of Arabs because of the recent violence. There is a lot of apprehension and fear,″ said Yossi Ahimeir, a spokesman for Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir.
Magen’s plan calls for strict enforcement of labor laws that have been ignored in the past, requiring Israeli businesses to employ only Arabs with work permits and pay them the minimum wage.
Some Palestinians hailed the plan as a first step toward economic autonomy from Israel, but others warned that it would spell disaster for the occupied lands.
Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza observed a general strike Thursday called by pro-PLO uprising leaders to protest the ″Judaization of Jerusalem″ -the settlement of Jews in the eastern Arab part of the city captured in the 1967 war.
In a related development, three left-wing legislators alleged the government was funneling million of dollars to Jewish settlers seeking to buy property in the Moslem Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City, the Jerusalem Post reported.
The legislators asked for a halt to the transfers until it was determined if they were legal.
The Old City is part of east Jerusalem, which Israel annexed after its capture from Jordan. Western countries do not recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the area, and the United States has recently demanded that U.S. aid not be used to settle immigrants in east Jerusalem.
Of the 108,000 Palestinians working at menial jobs in Israeli construction, manufacturing and agriculture, about 70,000 don’t have work permits.
It is unlikely Israelis will continue to employ as many Arabs if they must have work permits, meaning they must receive the minimum wage and such benefits as pensions and health insurance.
An inter-ministerial committee headed by Magen’s office recommended raising fines for employers from $250 to $1,000 for each violation of labor laws, along with an extra fine of $450 for each day an illegal worker is employed, Halachmi said.
Magen told Israel radio on Thursday that the plan won approval this week from all ministries involved. It now has to go to the Cabinet for formal approval.
Magen said he expected about 60,000 Palestinians to lose their jobs as a result of the new restrictions.
Palestinian economist Fawaz Abu Sitta said layoffs would have disastrous consequences in the impoverished Gaza Strip, where 70 percent of the 750,000 people are refugees.
About 65,000 Gazans, or half the local labor force, are employed in Israel, including 40,000 working without permits, Abu Sitta said.
″There is little chance that those fired will find new jobs in Gaza,″ he said.
Abu Sitta said several Gaza laborers have reported being turned away at an army checkpoint at the entrance to Israel in recent days after they could not produce work permits.
The situation in the West Bank is only slightly better than in Gaza. Palestinians have charged that Israel has systematically hampered economic development in both territories to safeguard a pool of cheap Arab labor and create a captive market for Israeli goods.
Palestinian journalist Daoud Kuttab said the Magen plan was a positive step toward Palestinian autonomy.
″It might be a bit too quick, and it’s going to cause a lot of hardship, but it’s going to lead to economic separation, which we hope will be at the forefront of a political separation,″ he said.