After delays of over a year, a plan to bring 6,000 construction workers from China to work on Israeli building projects appears to be good to go. Official recruitment and documentation of the workers has begun in China, after a ceremony this week in China which included local officials and the director of construction in the Housing Ministry, Avigdor Yitzchaki. Also participating in the event was Roni Brik, head of the Israel Contractors Association.
An online sign-up page has garnered over 20,000 applications by Chinese workers, the Israeli officials said at the event, and the selection of the workers to be brought to Israel will begin in the next few weeks. Israel’s agreement with China provides for the provision of 6,000 visas for the Chinese workers, although the Israeli officials said that number could increase.
An agreement to bring the workers over was signed between Israel and China in 2015, when Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu visited China. However, the Chinese government stipulated that none of the workers could be employed at building sites in Yehudah and Shomron – a stipulation Netanyahu was reluctant to agree to. Negotiations for the construction worker agreement had been ongoing for years, and in 2015 talks broke down over this specific demand.
The Foreign Ministry made 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. The impasse was resolved when the agreement was drafted with language that satisfied both sides, 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, although practically that is not expected to happen.
During the government discussions on the agreement, 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.The Yesha Council slammed the agreement, saying that “it 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,” the Council said.