After pressure from businesses, up to 10,000 workers to return

Thousands of Palestinians to return to work in settlements for first time since Oct. 7

IDF Central Command issues security guidelines for Israeli businesses in the West Bank that wish to allow employees to return to work; Ben Gvir demands decision be reversed

Illustrative: Palestinian workers line up at the entrance to the Jewish settlement of Ma’aleh Adumim, February 23, 2023. (Erik Marmor/Flash90)
Illustrative: Palestinian workers line up at the entrance to the Jewish settlement of Ma’aleh Adumim, February 23, 2023. (Erik Marmor/Flash90)

Between 8,000 and 10,000 Palestinian laborers from the West Bank will return to their jobs in Israeli West Bank settlements and businesses in the coming days following a decision by the Israel Defense Forces Central Command.

On Wednesday, a request put forward by Israeli employers to allow Palestinians to return to work in settlements was accepted by the IDF, albeit with tighter security conditions than had been in place before October 7, Hebrew media outlets reported.

The decision to allow them to return to work came after considerable pressure from factory and business owners who are suffering financially as a result of the loss of much of their workforce.

Since the shock Hamas assault on October 7 — in which some 1,200 people were killed and around 240 were taken hostage as thousands of terrorists flooded into southern Israel from Gaza — more than 150,000 West Bank Palestinians have largely been unable to enter Israel, or Israeli settlements, for work.

Prior to the October 7 attack and subsequent war in Gaza, some 150,000 Palestinians from the West Bank and an additional 17,000 from the Gaza Strip had permits to enter legally Israel for work.

In recent weeks, several thousand Palestinians have reportedly already been allowed to return to their jobs in various Israeli-owned West Bank industrial plants, although those who are employed inside Jewish settlements had not yet been permitted to return.

Palestinians make their way through the Israeli Qalandia checkpoint to attend the last Friday prayer of the holy fasting month of Ramadan in Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque, near the West Bank city of Ramallah on April 14, 2023. (Flash90)

For Palestinians from the West Bank, the return to work will only be approved in cases where the employer is found to have adequate security conditions in the workplace, Kan news reported.

The workers will only be allowed to move around freely inside designated areas in the workplace and the employers must ensure that there is one armed security guard for every seven workers, an expense that will be covered by the individual employer and not by the government.

In a letter published on Wednesday afternoon, National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir appealed to National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi with a request to overturn the decision.

“My position on the matter is known to all — the introduction of Palestinian workers from the Palestinian Authority, which supports terrorism, into the State of Israel, endangers the citizens of the country and opens the door to a re-enactment of the events of October 7,” the far-right minister charged. “The blood of the residents of the [West Bank] is no less red than the blood of the rest of Israel’s citizens.”

While Palestinians will be able to return to work for Israeli employers in the West Bank, there is no indication as to when this will be extended to those employed inside the Green Line, as that decision can only be approved by the government.

Earlier in December, the security cabinet discussed a proposal to allow West Bank Palestinians to return to work inside Israel, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not bring the issue to a vote amid reported disagreements between security cabinet ministers and fears he would not have a majority.

When the issue was discussed by the 15-member socioeconomic committee on December 11, 13 ministers voted against allowing Palestinian laborers to return, while Agriculture Minister Avi Dichter and Labor Minister Yoav Ben Tzur abstained.

During the same meeting, Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich spoke out against the plans to allow Palestinians to return to work in the West Bank, saying such a decision would be “discriminatory” toward settlers.

Jacob Magid contributed to this report.

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