Tuesday, July 05, 2022

By Daled Amos

Last week, Israel announced plans to build an industrial zone next to Gaza, creating thousands of new jobs for Palestinian Arabs. This news comes at a time when the number of Palestinian Arabs working in Israel has been increasing.

In an article for The Algemeiner, Elder of Ziyon notes data from the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics indicating that the number of Palestinian Arabs working in Israel has jumped:

The number of Palestinian workers in Israel and the settlements skyrocketed from 153,000 to 204,000, an increase of 33% in a single quarter. Of those, the number of workers in settlements — which the Palestinian Authority opposes — went up from 22,4000 to 31,000, an increase of 38%. [emphasis added]

Despite the PA's official disapproval of Arabs working in Judea and Samaria, historically they have had to admit that they cannot offer an alternative to employment in the settlements. Already in 2011, Shahar Saad, Secretary-General of the Palestinian Workers' Union

stated that despite the desire to implement the decisions of the PA leadership regarding the boycott of products and workers in the settlements, the implementation of that decision is difficult. According to him, the Palestinian Authority does not produce enough alternative jobs. [adapted from Google translation from Hebrew]

For Israel, creating jobs and providing employment for Palestinian Arabs makes sense, though the motivation differs between creating jobs for West Bank Arabs and Arabs from Gaza.

Last year, The Times of Israel reported that Israel was distributing 16,000 new work permits, in an effort to support the Palestinian economy which faced reduced international aid and a difficult year due to the pandemic. But more than shoring up Abbas,

“This measure will strengthen the Israeli and Palestinian economies, and will largely contribute to the security stability in the area of Judea and Samaria. Economic stability is the key to preserving security in the region,” said COGAT head Ghassan Alian in a statement.

That's all well and good for Abbas and the Palestinian Authority, but is Israel creating this new industrial zone in order to shore up Hamas in Gaza?

Back in 2020, The Associated Press reported that Israel was increasing the number of work permits for Gazans from 5,000 to 7,000. According to the article, this was part of an unofficial truce negotiated by Egypt between Israel and Hamas in exchange for a reduction in rocket fire from Gaza and in the number of weekly protests along the border.

But the following year, when additional permits were distributed, the rationale was different. There were 3,000 more work permits made available, bringing the number of permits up to 10,000. And this time the reason for the new work permits was clear:

COGAT said the permissions are “conditional upon the continued preservation of the region’s security stability for the long term.” [emphasis added]

Haaretz puts this into perspective.

In April, the paper claimed that according to Israel's military intelligence assessment, Hamas was not prepared for war and was unlikely to respond with its own violence in response to clashes between Arabs and Israeli forces in Jerusalem. But the reason for Hamas's reluctance was more than just because it was still recovering from the fighting last year. There are approximately 15,000 Gazans working in Israel, providing important support for the Gazan economy. But there is more to it than that:

These workers have become a powerful lobby in Gaza, and Hamas' leader in the enclave, Yahya Sinwar, is said to take their position into consideration. Any hasty action by Sinwar against Israel could prompt harsh criticism from this group.

...Sinwar, who was nearly deposed in an internal vote for Hamas' leadership last year, is now also taking credit for major infrastructure projects in Gaza. A war would endanger any progress the Gazan economy has made, and therefore, Israeli officials say, Sinwar would like to refrain from escalation. [emphasis added]

This would explain Sinwar's change in tactics, from inciting Gazans against Israel to inciting Arabs in Israel, claiming that Hamas is the defender of Al Aqsa and calling on them to attack Jews in order to defend it.

But Gazan employment in Israel is apparently not the only source of pressure on Sinwar.

Last week, Hamas announced that the health of one of the 2 Israeli hostages it holds is in danger. The terrorist group is trying to use them as bargaining chips to gain the release of terrorists and the periodic updates about their health is psychological manipulation towards that end. However, both of them suffer from mental illness, and because of the sympathy that creates, the Hamas exploitation of the hostages is not getting the leaders the response they expected.

And that is another problem for Sinwar:

Hamas needs a deal because of the important status of the security prisoners in the eyes of the Palestinian public, and because of a pledge that hasn’t been fulfilled: When Sinwar was released from prison in 2011, in the Shalit deal, he promised his associates who remained behind that he would help get them freed. [emphasis added]

When it was first suggested that Hamas should be included in the 2007 elections in Gaza, it was suggested that having the responsibilities of government would have "a moderating influence" on the terrorist group. The current situation is not a confirmation of that suggestion. The issue of Gazans working in Israel is not a moderating influence -- it is pressure applied by Israel on Sinwar to maintain calm in order to protect his position and stay in power, even as he tries to take credit for this boost to the economy. His "campaign promise" to his fellow terrorists, on the other hand, applies pressure on Sinwar to foment violence.

Al-Monitor claims that Israel is in fact taking a degree of risk every time it takes steps to either create new jobs for Palestinian Arabs or distributes additional work permits. According to this view, these workers could potentially be recruited to carry out attacks inside Israel. Such concerns are all the more credible in light of the violence we have seen Hamas instigate.

The same article also claims that while Hamas instigating attacks on Israel could threaten the employment opportunities for Gazans in Israel and ultimately harm the Gazan economy, there is an external threat to those jobs as well. With the Russian invasion of Ukraine, there has been an influx of Ukrainian immigrants to Israel. In March, Interior Affairs Minister Ayelet Shaked said in an interview with Al-Monitor that "between 100,000 and 200,000 Jews could immigrate to Israel in the coming months.” It remains to be seen if Ukrainian immigration will put a dent in the number of jobs available for Palestinian Arabs, though that industrial zone being built in Israel adjacent to Gaza would indicate it might not.

For years, Hamas terrorist leaders have been exploiting Gazans as human shields for protection in order to evade the consequences of their actions. Yet, regardless of how they feel about Israel, Gazans are practical enough to work there in order to make a living -- and they expect Sinwar and the other Hamas leaders not to mess up their opportunity to support their families, something that Hamas on its own is consistently failing to do.

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