NSC Official: We’ve Drawn Up Criteria for Entry of Up to 80,000 Palestinian Workers

By Aryeh Stern

MK Eliyahu Revivo leads a special committee for foreign workers at the Knesset, Monday. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

​​The Special Committee on Foreign Workers, chaired by MK Eliyahu Revivo (Likud), convened on Monday for a special debate on the current status and policy on employment of Palestinian workers in Israel.

At the start of the meeting, MK Revivo said, “The State of Israel has to decide whether it is making use of Palestinian hands or not. The principle that leads us is entering into bilateral agreements with foreign countries. It was decided to impose a closure on the Yehudah and Shomron region since the [start of the] war, and no decision has been made yet not to let in workers from Gaza. As for Yehudah and Shomron, not only is there no decision, but in practice workers enter, and most of those who enter reach areas of friction and hospitals and hotels. The policy should be decided upon, in order to prepare for [receiving] more foreign hands from abroad. The State of Israel encouraged the blocking of foreign workers for small contractors by imposing restrictions and making the process cumbersome, and it was all deliberate, it’s cause and effect. As long as no solutions have been given, the state is dependent on the Palestinian workers. The Government is dragging its feet on this issue.”

Deputy Minister of Agriculture Moshe Abutbul (Shas), “There needs to be a clear decision on this matter. There must not be a shortage of workers in the agriculture, construction, and nursing industries, or in any other industry. You see all the fruit on the trees, and how much help can you ask of volunteers? We have to think about entering into a proper and healthy process, but they need those foreign workers. We have created agreements, and there should be a surplus of foreign workers rather than a shortage. In the current state of affairs that has arisen, when it comes to bringing in Palestinians to Israel, I’m not sure we can accept this issue.” Committee Chair MK Revivo asked what the ministry’s policy was, and Deputy Minister Abutbul replied: “We need foreign workers, full stop.”

MK Yitzchak Kroizer (Otzma Yehudit) said, “The farmers are reservists who protect the country’s food security. After Oct. 7, the State of Israel realized that it has to stop employing murdering hands rather than working hands.”

MK Revivo answered, “No one has realized this.”

MK Simon Davidson (Yesh Atid) said, “There were eight debates on this topic. The entire system of bringing workers to Israel has to be changed. There won’t be Palestinian workers in the State of Israel, and the Government has to change its policy. Part of the 8,000 who were approved reached hotels housing evacuees. Have you lost your minds?”

A representative of the Unit for the Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) said, “We are subject to the decisions of the political echelon and the Political-Security Cabinet to make an exception for 8,000 Palestinians for health care, hotels, and industry in critical systems. We have an orderly procedure [for working] with the National Emergency Management Authority. In Yehudah and Shomron, the authority is in the hands of OC Central Command.”

MK Moshe Saada (Likud) said, “Bringing the 8,000 workers into Israel’s territory is a failure. The number should be zero.”

Nitzan Tzuk of the National Security Council said, “Before the war, 160,000 Palestinians entered. Since the war, there has been a closure on Yehudah and Shomron, and exceptions were authorized for essential enterprises. The National Security Council was asked to say how they could be permitted [to enter] or whether they could be permitted. Not all the security agencies gave their support for bringing in workers. Within the plan, we drew up new criteria, different from those that were in place on Oct. 6, which give potential for 80,000 Palestinians.”

MK Revivo asked, “Was this examined by the employer’s need or by the number [of workers] that would enter?”

Tzuk answered, “Each ministry presented the critical shortages and asked how to give an immediate response until the arrival of foreign workers. We proposed tiers in the agriculture and construction industries, with the first stage amounting to 13,000 Palestinians.”

MK Davidson asked, “Why don’t they advance an initiative for [bringing] foreign workers?”

Raul Srugo, president of the Israel Builders Association, said, “We are in a state of very serious distress. The industry is in a complete freeze, and its output is at a 30% level. Fifty percent of the sites are shut down and it affects Israel’s economy and the housing market. The state’s revenues from real estate taxes in 2022 amounted to NIS 80 billion; that’s 20% of the state budget, and we won’t reach that [amount] this year or next year. […] There is no immediate alternative. The state accustomed us to Palestinian workers, and curbed quotas for foreign workers. As far as we’re concerned, you can bring workers from the moon.”

Yesha Council Director Shira Liebman said, “Oct. 7 should change something in the worldview of all the professional echelons sitting here. Doubt should be cast on everything that was clear to us until that day. The criteria need to change, because what existed in the past is not what will be. This entire stew needs to be put on the table and discussed. Palestinians don’t enter the communities within the Yesha Council but they do enter the industrial zones, and we’re not pleased with that.”

Ministry of Finance official Assaf Geva said, “We calculated what the economic harm would be if Palestinians don’t enter Israel to work, in terms of direct impact, and it is estimated at about NIS 3 billion per month.”

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