Israel approves 5,000 more Palestinian work permits

Move comes despite anger over Palestinian economic warfare and leaks about negotiations; Erekat threatens to walk away from talks.

Saeb Erekat 370 (photo credit: TOVAH LAZAROFF)
Saeb Erekat 370
(photo credit: TOVAH LAZAROFF)
The cabinet on Sunday approved permits enabling another 5,000 Palestinians to work inside the Green Line despite anger at the Palestinian Authority’s economic warfare against Israel.
Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon brought the proposal to substantially add to the estimated 35,000 Palestinian workers already working legally inside the Green Line. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, who is heading the negotiations with the PA, both supported the move.
One cabinet source said, however, that because of annoyance at the Palestinians for spurring the Europeans on regarding their guidelines sanctioning Israeli entities beyond the pre-1967 lines, wording in the resolution saying it was done “within the framework of the negotiations with the Palestinians and as part of a willingness to assist the Palestinian economy” was taken out.
“While we take a step that will help the Palestinian economy, they continue to call for a total boycott of settlement goods and industry – something that hurts them since they are employed in that industry – and are behind the calls in Europe for stiffer economic sanctions against settlements,” the source said.
Removing the conciliatory language was meant to send a signal of displeasure to the Palestinians, the source added. Asked whether shelving the resolution entirely would not have sent a much stronger message, the source said, “We are not there yet,” and that it was in Israel’s interest to help the Palestinian economy.
Sunday’s move will increase the Palestinian workforce within the Green Line by almost 15 percent. Of those laborers, 27,500 work in construction, 2,250 in industry and service professions, 5,000 in agriculture, and 250 in health services. The bulk of the permits approved on Sunday are for construction workers.
The decision came two days before two senior EU diplomats are scheduled to arrive to hammer out clarifications on the EU’s settlement guidelines in an effort to enable Israel to continue to take part in EU programs.
The visit of the diplomats, including Christian Berger, former head of the EU delegation in east Jerusalem and a man Israel blames for drawing up the guidelines “behind its back,” comes two days before Israel and EU representatives are scheduled to meet in Brussels for a second round of negotiations regarding Israel’s participation in the EU’s 80 billion euro R&D program known as Horizon 2020.
At the first meeting in Tel Aviv on Horizon 2020 last month it was decided to try to come to agreement on the settlement guidelines before the September meeting in Brussels.
Israel has said it would not be able to join the program under the terms of the guidelines as they are currently configured.
US Secretary of State John Kerry urged the EU at an informal meeting of its foreign ministers on Saturday to delay any action on the guidelines while Israeli-PA diplomatic talks were under way. PLO executive committee member Hanan Ashrawi slammed Kerry for his intervention.
Livni, meanwhile, alluded to Kerry’s intervention at a time when so much else was happening in the region and said it showed – along with the positive reaction heard from a number of European foreign ministers toward coming to understanding with Israel on the matter – that the negotiations have already improved Israel’s international position.
“So even if a diplomatic agreement seems to most of the public still very far away and full of only prices Israel has to pay, we can say already that it was enough to start negotiations in order to improve Israel’s position in the world,” she wrote on her Facebook page. “And it also turns out, as opposed to the tune being sung from the Right, that the negotiations also have a direct economic impact on all of us.”
Regarding the negotiations with the PLO, sources in the Prime Minister’s Office said Israel registered a complaint with the US over constant leaks emanating from the Palestinian side.
“There were a number of understandings reached when the talks began,” the source said. “One of them was that all the briefing would be done by the American side. These talks are difficult and complex enough as is; we don’t want to make them more complicated by having constant leaks.”
According to the source, there were a number of leaks by the Palestinian side last week.
“Some of the information was wrong, and some of it was for political purposes to get a message across,” he said.
Netanyahu’s envoy Yitzhak Molcho complained about the matter to US special envoy Martin Indyk.
The latest leak appeared in the London-based Al-Hayat newspaper, which reported that Israel has demanded control over the border with Jordan in a final deal with the Palestinians.
The paper said that Israel also demanded during the talks with the Palestinians the right to have early warning stations in the West Bank.
According to the report, the negotiations have focused thus far only on security-related issues. “No breakthrough has been achieved on these issues,” the paper wrote, quoting Western diplomatic sources.
Meanwhile, chief PLO negotiator Saeb Erekat on Sunday once again threatened to pull out of the talks because of continued building in the West Bank and east Jerusalem. He was quoted as saying that the negotiations could not continue while there was construction in the settlements.
In a document released by the PLO Negotiations Department, Erekat said that he relayed the Palestinian position regarding the settlements to the US administration, Russia, European Union, United Nations and other countries.
Erekat said that the Israeli argument that the settlement blocs would be part of Israel in a permanent deal was an “excuse uglier than the sin, because this means dictates and not negotiations.”
One of the reasons the PA agreed to return to negotiations was a written pledge that the terms of reference for a final settlement would be based on a two-state solution on the pre-1967 lines with a slight and agreed swap of land.
Erekat did not say who gave the PA the written pledge.
In a related development, Kerry hosted a meeting in Paris on Sunday with a ministerial delegation appointed by the Arab League’s Peace Initiative Committee. The delegation included foreign ministers and permanent representatives to the Arab League of Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, the PLO, Qatar, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, and the league’s secretary-general.
Kerry briefed them on the negotiations with Israel, and on plans to promote investment and economic growth for the Palestinians.
According to the State Department, the delegation expressed full support for Kerry’s efforts and the agreed upon nine-month timeline.
The delegation expressed concern about “continued Israeli settlement activity and unilateral Israeli actions in Jerusalem that create a negative environment,” the State Department said.