JERUSALEM (Apr. 8)
Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin says he is in no rush to end tough restrictions on allowing Palestinians from the administered territories to enter Israel proper.
But the complete ban imposed last week has been relaxed to permit some Arab workers to reach jobs in sectors of the Israeli economy, such as agriculture, that have been hit hard by labor shortages.
Rabin, who also serves as defense minister, discussed his plan to continue the restrictions Thursday during a special session of the Knesset called to debate the government’s response to the recent wave of Palestinian attacks against Jews, which claimed the lives of 15 Israelis last month.
The Knesset debated five no-confidence motions put forth by opposition parties, but it effectively tabled the motions by submitting them to a Knesset committee for future discussion.
Rabin defended his security policy, noting that the closure of the territories ordered last week apparently has succeeded in its goal of curbing terrorist incidents.
“I hope the Cabinet will decide on Sunday that the closure will continue. I will not define for how long,” Rabin told the Knesset.
At the same time, he stressed that the negotiation of a political solution is the only way to resolve the longstanding conflict between Palestinians and Israelis. The quicker a political solution is reached, the quicker the terror will diminish, he said.
Rabin also emphasized the importance of separating Israelis from Palestinians who live in the territories as a way of enhancing Jewish security.
He also said Israel now has a unique opportunity to end its dependency on Palestinian labor.
PROPOSALS TO TIGHTEN SECURITY
But the ban on Palestinians entering Israel has been partially lifted in recent days, with some 3,000 Arab workers allowed to enter Israel proper Thursday.
Many stayed at home, though, apparently nervous about being the first to return to work.
The relaxation in restrictions was in response to the pressing needs of Israeli employers, particularly in agriculture, who rely on cheap manual Palestinian labor.
Labor and Social Affairs Minister Ora Namir proposed several measures to tighten control over Palestinian workers, which she said would be presented to the Cabinet. Among the proposals were:
Requiring Israeli employers to pay minimum wage to any worker, regardless of whether he is Israeli or Palestinian. The move would reduce the attractiveness of employing Arabs from the territories.
Granting work permits to individual Palestinians, as opposed to group permits now given to contractors. The measure would help enable more effective supervision over who enters Israel from the territories.
More vigilant police enforcement of the regulations, including punishment of offending Israeli employers.
These proposed measures are expected to reduce drastically the number of Palestinians allowed to work in Israel, even after the total ban is gradually lifted in stages.
CRITICISM FROM LIKUD OPPOSITION
But Rabin’s aim to separate Palestinians from Jews has come under criticism not only from Arab leaders in the territories, but also from the political opposition.
Knesset member Benjamin Netanyahu, the newly elected head of the Likud party, attacked the government’s move to seal off the territories and separate the two populations, telling reporters Thursday that the policy could lead only to the creation of two states.
Speaking in the Knesset, Netanyahu noted the “emergency situation” prevailing in Israel and called for a series of immediate legislative measures in response.
His proposals included the deportation of terrorists and their supporters, the demolition of their homes, the death penalty for brutal terrorist murders and the easing of requirements for gun licenses for certain people.
Rabin, for his part, rejected Netanyahu’s proposals, saying they would fly in the face of rulings by Israel’s High Court of Justice.