A plan proposed by Finance Minister Moshe Kachlon to bring into Israel proper 33,000 Arab workers was cut substantially Monday – and may be slashed even more, in light of Tuesday’s terror attacks. Kachlon himself cut the number of workers to be imported from 33,000 to 7,000, his office announced, saying that this would be only the first of four waves of permit issuances for workers.
However, government officials quoted in business daily Globes said that it is unlikely that a second “installment” will be taking place any time soon. Government ministers who would have to approve the plan are very reluctant to do so since there are already 43,000 Palestinian workers in Israel. Officials feel that a substantial increase would paint the government as being insensitive to the security concerns of Israelis, who, according to polls, already fear that there are too many Palestinian workers in the country.
The objective of allowing more Palestinian workers into Israel is to provide more hands to quicken the pace of construction of housing projects that the Finance Ministry is backing as a solution to the high cost of housing in Israel. A report on Channel Two last night said that Kachlon and Housing Minister Yoav Galant had also decided to allow foreign construction firms to enter the Israeli market. The companies, the pair hope, will be able to build more homes faster, increasing the supply of apartments and thus reducing their cost.
The Defense Ministry was on board with the plan as well, but recent terror attacks have given Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon pause on supporting the project, the Globes report said. The importation of the workers would entail the construction of new checkpoints and the institution of security measures that would cost tens of millions of shekels – money that the Ministry feels could end up wasted if the government moves to lower the number of Palestinian workers, as seems to be even more likely after Tuesday’s terror attacks. However, some officials in the Ministry are still in favor of the plan, as they believe that allowing Palestinians to work in Israel and providing them with economic opportunities, is an effective way of stemming terrorism.
Kachlon’s “plan B” is the importation of masses of Chinese construction workers. Channel Two reported last week that talks with the Chinese government about the mass import of the workers have completely broken down. The Chinese were said to fear the possibility that Israel would assign the workers to projects in Yehudah and Shomron or in Yerushalayim, creating potential legal issues for Chinese workers who would be laboring in “occupied” territories.