News Analysis: Restrictions on Arab Day Laborers May Make Territories Self-sufficient

Security measures aimed at protecting Israelis from the violence of the Palestinian uprising have not been entirely effective.

Moreover, regardless of government policy, the measures seem to be leading to the eventual emergence of the administered territories as self-sufficient entities, economically and politically divorced from Israel.

Some analysts and observers believe that such a development is inevitable as restrictions are tightened to control the presence of Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza Strip in Israel.

Two measures instituted recently illustrate this phenomenon. One is strict application of the rule that Palestinian day laborers may not spend the night in Israel. It has been in effect since Israel captured the territories in 1967, but until recently was only loosely enforced.

The other measure is the issuing of magnetized identity cards to Arabs in the territories who commute daily to jobs in Israel. The cards allow the authorities, equipped with computers, to screen out Arabs with security or criminal records.

The procedure was applied initially to the Gaza Strip, where about 60,000 Palestinians hold jobs in Israel. Police Minister Haim Bar-Lev announced last week that the cards will soon be issued to the much larger Palestinian population in the West Bank.

The system was set up in response to a public outcry over the rising incidence of murders and attacks on Jews in the streets of Israeli cities, which, in any case, is still relatively small.

INCREASE IN CRIMINAL INCIDENTS

But the number of terrorist and criminal acts has actually increased since the new ID cards were introduced.

The suspected mass murderer of seven Arabs and Jews in Tel Aviv and Jaffa last month was an Arab from the Gaza Strip with a long criminal record.

Another Gazan Arab employed on a construction job in Tel Aviv has confessed to murdering a Jewish fellow worker for nationalistic motives.

Both had official permits to live in Israel.

The authorities are talking now of setting up a new police task force to make sure no Palestinian from the territories spends the night in Israel.

It will not be easy to carry out and may not be entirely effective. The fact is, most Palestinian acts of violence in Israel have occurred in the daytime.

In the long term, these measures are bound to have political and economic consequences.

As access to Israel is made more difficult for residents of the territories, they will prefer to stay at home and earn their livings locally. That will mean a sharp drop in living standards, which have declined by 30 to 40 percent since the start of the intifada almost two years ago.

It will also mean growing independence from Jewish employers. The strength of the indigenous economy in the territories is hard to calculate, as is the degree of self-sufficiency it can achieve. But the trend away from Israel toward a self-supporting economic system is already evident.

Considering the high rate of unemployment in Israel — about 10 percent — the trend may prove beneficial to the Israeli economy.

The uncertainty lies in its possible political consequences. The administered territories may well crystalize into separate entities without diplomatic intervention and regardless of the intent of Israeli policy.

TOO MANY FOREIGN WORKERS

One respected commentator, Ha’aretz columnist Dan Margalit, suggested this week that the government gradually stop the flow of Arab workers from the Gaza Strip and announce that Israel will withdraw unilaterally from the territory within a year.

According to Margalit, many Israelis, including members of the conservative Likud bloc, see no point in holding on to that impoverished area, with its 700,000 Arabs, most of them in miserable refugee camps.

But the columnist thought it was too much to expect such a bold step from the Likud leader, Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, whose policy is no further territorial concessions.

Israel, meanwhile, is confronting another economic problem: the growing number of foreign workers in the country. Many were brought in to replace Arab labor from the territories, which has proven undependable since the intifada began.

There are an estimated 11,000 workers from overseas in Israel now, and senior officials urged this week that ways be found to limit their numbers, because of the high unemployment rate.

The foreign workers are mainly from Poland, Portugal, Thailand, Philippines, Nigeria and Ghana. They are valued by Israeli employers, because they work more cheaply and are more docile than Israeli workers.

Dov Kehat, director general of the Interior Ministry, complained Wednesday that these workers not only compete with Israelis for jobs, but are underpaid, work under substandard conditions and become partners in mixed marriages.

Israeli diplomatic missions abroad have been ordered to warn tourists to stay away from Israel if they intend to look for jobs here. Israeli employers are fined 500 shekels a day (approximately $250) if they hire foreigners without permission.

About 250 foreign workers are deported each year, and some 500 leave voluntarily. Deportees are allowed 72 hours to appeal. The Interior Ministry wants that reduced to 24 hours.

NEXT STORY