Yesha Council Slams Deal on Chinese Construction Workers

Construction in the Jewish community of Ariel. (Flash90)

The Yesha Council slammed an agreement that would bring 6,000 Chinese construction workers to Israel but would prevent them from working on projects in Yehudah and Shomron.

“The housing crisis in Israel is present in our communities as well, and unfortunately this agreement will differentiate and discriminate between Efrat and Holon,”  the Council said. “This situation harms the rights of residents of Yehudah and Shomron as equal citizens of Israel. It will cause further delays in construction, which has been delayed so many times because of security considerations.”

After an agreement signed in China by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Chinese President Xi Jinping on the former’s recent visit to Beijing, thousands of Chinese construction workers will be arriving in Israel to fill the many open jobs needed to advance the ambitious building plans recently instituted by the government. However, not all jobs will be open to those Chinese workers; according to the final agreement ratified by the government on Sunday, they will not be allowed to work in Yehudah, Shomron, or much of Yerushalayim.

Negotiations for the construction-worker agreement have been ongoing for years, and in 2015 talks broke down over this specific demand. The Foreign Ministry has tried numerous attempts to resolve the issue, preferring not to write the clause into the work agreement, which would imply the government’s agreement with an international boycott of areas liberated by Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War.

After many months of discussion, the appropriate language that satisfied both sides was agreed upon, with the agreement saying that the workers “will work in areas that are agreed upon by both sides, and will change from time to time,” leaving open the possibility that Israel will try to convince Beijing to allow workers to take jobs in “disputed” areas. However, the final version of the agreement also includes specific cities and towns where the workers can work, and it does not include any location in Yehudah and Shomron.

During the government discussion on the agreement Sunday, several ministers raised objections to the “implied” boycott provisions of the deal. In response, Foreign Ministry officials emphasized that the reason Israel had agreed to the provision was because of safety concerns on the part of Beijing.