Israel in recent days has nearly doubled the number of permits granted to Palestinian workers from the Gaza Strip, one of the apparent concessions laid out in an unofficial ceasefire that is maintaining a tenuous calm along the border.
The head of the Gaza Chamber of Commerce Maher Tabaa told the Saudi-owned Al-Quds Al-Arabi daily last weekend that Israel has increased the quota for “trader” permits from 3,000 to 5,000, and lowered the minimum age for entering Israel from 30 to 25.
He said the move was done quietly by Israel in coordination with Gaza’s Hamas rulers in the wake of the truce mediated by Egypt, Qatar and the United Nations following a two-day flareup in May.
Trader permits are not typical work permits — they are designed for businessmen traveling in and out of the West Bank and Gaza. But Tabaa and others said the majority of the new permits were going to manual laborers. The Haaretz daily reported that hundreds of young men crossed into Israel on Monday in attire that suggest they were laborers.
An Israeli official confirmed the increased quota to The Times of Israel on Wednesday, but insisted the permits were not being granted to laborers.
However, Saleh al-Ziq, a senior Gaza-based official in the PA Civil Affairs Commission, said that the quota had not recently been changed. He said it has been at 5,000 for the past few years and that Israel started to allow people without “long histories in business” to apply for permits in 2018. Since then, he said the number of permits granted to Palestinian traders has increased. He said today there are some 4,000 permits in the hands of Gazans traders.
Similar to the Israeli official, he also denied that workers were entering Gaza with trader permits. But he said Palestinians in Gaza need tens of thousands of work permits to effectively improve the Palestinian economy.
A spokeswoman for the Israeli NGO Gisha similarly said the 5,000 permit quota had been introduced after Operation Protective Edge in 2014 and has never been filled. She said that as of today 3,227 Gazans hold trader permits.
Late last month, Israel and Hamas rulers reached a new ceasefire agreement in which Palestinian terror groups halted rocket fire into Israel in exchange for Israeli measures to improve living conditions in the blockaded enclave.
Israel has since restored fuel supplies to the Gaza Strip’s sole power plant and expanded the permitted fishing zone off the enclave’s coast, easing some recent restrictions.
Since the truce went into effect, there has been a marked drop in the number of violent border protests and airborne arson attacks, though they have not stopped completely.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government has faced considerable criticism from residents of southern Israel and politicians from across the political spectrum for what they say is a failure to adequately respond to ongoing violence by Hamas and other terror groups from the Gaza Strip.
According to Haaretz, by increasing the trade permits instead of regular work permits, Netanyahu can quietly meet Hamas demands for economic relief without appearing to make unpopular concessions to the terrorist group.
Hamas, which seized control of Gaza by force in 2007 and seeks to destroy Israel, has complained that Israel is not fully implementing the ceasefire deal, while Jerusalem has accused Palestinian terror groups of breaching the understandings.
Adam Rasgon contributed to this report.