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Israel set to raise work permit quotas for Gazans to 20,000

Government expected to sign off on move Sunday; unemployment in Gaza, blockaded by both Israel and Egypt, is at around 50%, making work in Israel an attractive option

Palestinian men gather to apply for work permits in Israel, at Jabalia refugee camp in the northern Gaza Strip, on October 6, 2021. (Mahmud Hams/AFP)
Palestinian men gather to apply for work permits in Israel, at Jabalia refugee camp in the northern Gaza Strip, on October 6, 2021. (Mahmud Hams/AFP)

The Israeli government is on Sunday expected to raise the number of permits for Gazans to work in Israel by an additional 8,000, to a total of 20,000, the Ministry for Regional Cooperation said.

Cabinet ministers are set to sign off on a government resolution authorizing the additional permits at their weekly meeting. The decision comes as Israel seeks to reduce tensions with the Palestinians before the Ramadan holiday, with some officials fearing heightened tensions.

The quota was raised to 12,000 permits just two weeks ago. An Israeli security official briefed reporters at the time that the ceiling would soon be raised to 20,000 at the initiative of Defense Minister Benny Gantz.

Qatari envoy to the Gaza Strip Mohammad al-Emadi, who regularly meets with both Israeli and Palestinian officials, told Gaza media on Thursday that Israel had pledged to eventually raise the quota to 30,000 permits.

The Gaza Strip has been blockaded by both Israel and Egypt for over 15 years in an attempt to contain the enclave’s Hamas rulers. Israel says the tight restrictions on goods and people are necessary due to the terror group’s efforts to massively arm itself for attacks against the Jewish state.

Critics lament the blockade’s impact on ordinary Gazans, around 50 percent of whom are unemployed, according to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics. The sky-high poverty rates make employment in Israel a highly attractive option for those lucky enough to receive permits.

A Palestinian policeman waves on a truck as it enters through the Kerem Shalom crossing into the Gaza Strip on September 1, 2020, after a Qatari-mediated deal with Israel. (Said Khatib/AFP)

After the May 2021 11-day war between Israel and Hamas, Israeli authorities imposed tight sanctions on the Gaza Strip in an attempt to squeeze concessions from the terror group. Politicians vowed that there would be “no going back to the way things were” before the war.

Hamas and Israel conducted indirect negotiations in Egypt for several months, with Israeli envoys heading to Cairo to discuss the terms for allowing in Qatari aid and relaxing restrictions on the Strip.

Another key issue on the agenda was a potential prisoner exchange between the two sides. Hamas has sought to secure the release of many Palestinians jailed for terrorism in exchange for returning two Israeli civilians and the bodies of two Israeli soldiers in its custody.

Nearly a year after the war, both a prisoner exchange and a long-term ceasefire between Israel and Gaza terror groups have yet to materialize. But Israel has loosened some restrictions on Gaza in an attempt to reduce tension — such as providing more work permits for Gazans.

In a recent speech to the United Nations Security Council, UN envoy to the region Tor Wennesland also noted that, in January, Gaza exports — which mostly leave through Israeli crossings — rose to their highest levels since 2007.

“This is the highest monthly figure recorded since 2007, and it comes close to the rates that had existed prior to it, as well as significantly above pre-May 2021 rates,” Wennesland said.

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