Palestinians seek work in Israel as crisis deepens

By Mohammed Daraghmeh

Associated Press

Published: Saturday, Oct. 13 2012 12:00 a.m. MDT

It's a far cry from Fayyad's grand vision, unveiled in 2009, that aimed to end Palestinian dependency on Israel and lay the foundation for independence.

Fayyad, a former International Monetary Fund official, promised new roads, schools, an airport and other development projects. The money would come from donors and increasing tax revenues.

The goal was to generate employment in the West Bank, the heartland of a future Palestinian state, ending the need for laborers to find work in Israel.

To stop Palestinians from inadvertently supporting Israel's Jewish settlement enterprise, his government banned the sale of items produced there. He also tried to halt Palestinian laborers working in Jewish settlements, especially construction jobs building new homes. Palestinians say the settlements are preventing them from building their state by cutting up the West Bank.

Despite Fayyad's best intentions, investors shied away, deterred by a deadlocked peace process, a global economic slowdown and regionwide turmoil. Alternative efforts by Palestinian leaders to unilaterally carve out independence through international recognition are making little progress.

Yet Israel has a strong interest in keeping Fayyad's government afloat. The Palestinian Authority's collapse would wreak chaos on Israel's doorstep and endanger key security cooperation that has helped maintain years of relative calm.

In a separate report to donors last month, Israeli officials boasted of a series of measures it was taking to bolster the Palestinian economy, including increasing work permits.

Israelis and Palestinians remain bound together, though their stated goals are separate states.

"There's no way for us to disconnect the Palestinian economy from Israel's, before it ends its occupation," said Palestinian Labor Minister Ahmed Majdalani.

On a recent day, some 200 Palestinians gathered outside the military building to apply for permits, clutching applications in plastic envelopes, waiting for an unseen soldier to open a gate to usher them in.

Eligible Palestinians —those who do not have a record of activity against Israel — peaceful or violent — receive a magnetic card allowing them to enter Israel. They find jobs through friends or contacts on the Israeli side.

Emad Misbah is one of the lucky ones. He has a special permit that allows him to stay overnight in Israel during the week, avoiding the lengthy daily commute that most face while waiting to cross checkpoints.

The 49-year-old gravedigger works 10 hours a day, and sleeps in a trailer in the cemetery. He goes home once a week.

It isn't easy for the father of eight, but he earns $1,500 a month in the central Israeli city of Petah Tikva. It's more than double what Palestinians make for the same work in the West Bank.

He's waiting for his children to graduate from university before quitting.

"Then I'll open a small business in my village and rest," he said.

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