Trade leader: We must create more jobs for Palestinians

Chamber of Commerce plans to propose increase in Palestinians licensed to work inside Israel be increased, alleviated travel restrictions.

Palestinian receive food aid 248.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
Palestinian receive food aid 248.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
The most important thing Israel can do to develop the Palestinian economy is to help create jobs, the vice president of the Israeli Chamber of Commerce said Wednesday. The Chamber of Commerce plans to propose to Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu that the number of Palestinians licensed to work inside Israel be increased, that new jobs be created and that travel restrictions be alleviated, said Arie Zeif, who gave a talk on the issue hosted by the Israel Palestine Center for Research and Information in Jerusalem. Netanyahu has spoken of an economic peace plan that would develop the Palestinian economy so that one day conditions will be ripe for some sort of permanent settlement with Israel. Netanyahu met with Quartet envoy Tony Blair on Thursday to discuss this and other issues. "If people work and have money, and if they spend, commerce will improve and the whole economy will work well," Zeif said. "I think it will really help the peace process," he added. "If there is calm, if there is employment and a way to make a living, there will be a better environment to talk. It will be less stressed, and maybe then [it would be] possible to bring creative solutions - but this is a political step, and we need to let the government do that." While there were periods when more than 100,000 Palestinian workers from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip had permits to work inside Israel, today there are about 23,000 from the West Bank who have permits to work inside the country and another 23,000 who are allowed to work in the settlements, Zeif said. "If the number of those who work inside Israel were to increase by 50 percent in the first year, that would be very nice," he said. In addition, the chamber will also propose changing the costly "back-to-back trucking system" between Israel and the West Bank, in which goods are transferred within Palestinian territories on Palestinian trucks and inside Israel by Israeli trucks. Perhaps one trucking company could be used in both territories to help reduce barriers between the two sides, though security issues would have to be addressed, he said. As well as creating industrial zones, Israel could help speed up merchandise transfer at the Ashdod port and ease restrictions on businesspeople and other human resources. Many of the proposals, however, would be contingent on the security and political situation at any given time, he said. The new government will be dealing with not only the Israeli economy, but the economy of the West Bank, the economy of the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, and a new economic system that will have to be developed between the two Palestinian territories, he said. Zeif is a member of the Likud Party, but stressed that he was speaking only as a chamber representative.