Since the start of the war, the crossings between the Palestinian Authority and green line Israel have been closed and tens of thousands of Arab workers from Judea and Samaria have not been allowed to enter Israel. The security establishment, alongside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, wants to increase the number of entries under proper supervision, but the police and several government ministers oppose the move.
According to Calcalist, Tal Basachs, who was appointed in late October as the civilian control center czar for the duration of the war, has been working on a formula for the gradual return of PA Arab workers, mainly to the construction and agricultural sectors. At least 90 thousand PA Arabs were employed in construction alone in Israel, and since October 7, with the suspension of all work permits for PA residents, the construction industry has been paralyzed.
In late November, the Population Authority allowed contractors to hire workers from abroad, and the first round of some 4,000 foreign construction workers has arrived – but the industry is vying for many, many more.
Since the outbreak of the war, Israel has authorized the entry of approximately 4,000-5,000 PA Arab workers who are employed by sectors with exceptional essential needs, such as burial societies, food-producing plants, and plants producing medical equipment.
On Wednesday, Basachs is expected to submit to the socio-economic cabinet his plan for permitting many thousands of PA Arab day workers into Israel. Once the plan is approved, it will be submitted to the security cabinet for approval.
The fear is that the stagnation in the construction industry that began on October 7 would have far-reaching consequences beyond the economic collapse of entrepreneurs and contractors, and may later create a severe shortage of apartments and a renewed rise in apartment prices.
“The economic significance is very great and as long as answers are not provided, the consequences will become more severe,” Basachs told Calcalist, adding, “We sat down with the interior ministry to comprehend the rate of entry of the foreign workers. There are numerous cross-cutting national economic considerations involved. Yesterday evening, we sat for several hours in a meeting with all the government ministries to promote employment solutions for the real estate market with the understanding that there’s a big problem here.”
At this point, the proposed outline is for 50 thousand PA Arab workers to enter Israel each weekday, starting with 10 thousand in the coming two weeks. The main concern is controlling the entry of such a large group from a population that is largely hostile to Israel. The three operating considerations will be based on recognition of each worker’s identity; a limit on the age of individuals who are allowed to enter; and a preference for married workers.
The plan is to create a dynamic database with the cooperation of every contractor who receives PA Arab workers, with the whereabouts of every single worker remaining traceable under the security apparatus’s monitoring. The most important purpose of this database is to keep track of every entry and exit of the PA workers, to prevent the dangerous phenomenon of illegal overnight stays inside the green line.
In the past, many terror attacks were carried out by PA residents who managed to remain in Israel illegally, often with the cooperation of their contractors who allowed them to remain on their sites. The new system will provide ongoing data on the location of every employee – but, unfortunately, the most air-tight control systems can be fooled, and Hamas has proven in many different ways its ability to study Israel’s controls and to fool them.
Basachs operates under Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, a factor that could smooth the security cabinet’s approval for his outline, which is also supported by the prime minister. However, Smotrich’s ally in the Netanyahu government, and the Israel Police under his authority, are likely to object to the plan, as would several Likud ministers, many of them with a security background.