Israeli cabinet to review ‘limited pilot’ for re-admittance of Palestinian workers

The report prompted condemnation from lawmakers across the political spectrum.

By Akiva Van Koningsveld, JNS

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu intends to present to his Cabinet a “limited pilot” for the re-introduction of Palestinian laborers from Judea and Samaria, the Prime Minister’s Office said on Tuesday.

“Regarding the Palestinian workers, following a request from security officials for a limited pilot, Prime Minister Netanyahu said that this will be presented for an initial discussion,” his office said in a statement.

The announcement came after local media had reported that the premier authorized a trial for re-admitting Palestinians into the country’s pre-1967 lines amid a severe shortage of laborers in the construction sector.

According to Israel’s Channel 14 News, Netanyahu made the remarks during a closed meeting of the powerful Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee earlier on Tuesday.

The report prompted condemnation from lawmakers across the political spectrum. “Do not repeat the mistake that preceded Oct. 7 by bringing in Palestinians who receive a million dollars for murdering a Jew. You can’t buy calm in security with money,” tweeted Economy Minister Nir Barkat, a fellow member of Netanyahu’s ruling Likud Party, on Tuesday.

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“Prime minister, it is a grave mistake to approve the return of Palestinian workers to Israel after Oct. 7,” added Barkat. “170 thousand workers from peaceful countries are only waiting for a government decision to come [to Israel], and they do not pose any risk to Israeli citizens.”

The minister’s sentiment was echoed by Likud lawmakers Moshe Saada and Dan Illouz, with the latter calling on Netanyahu to approve the entry of “foreign workers and provide a real solution for the economy.”

MK Idan Roll of the opposition Yesh Atid Party wrote on X: “Now is the time for brave decisions and a clear policy. Instead of announcing a pilot, the prime minister should direct a multilevel, inter-ministerial plan to wean the Israeli economy off Palestinian workers.”

In its response, the Prime Minister’s Office noted that “Netanyahu did not approve any pilot for the introduction of Palestinian workers. On the contrary, Prime Minister Netanyahu promoted bringing in foreign workers from abroad this week,” the statement claimed.

In late October, Jerusalem authorized the entry of 8,000 workers from Judea and Samaria to offset the labor shortage caused by the war. With the approval of security services, Palestinian workers were dispatched to industrial areas, food factories, medical facilities and burial societies.

Israel’s defense establishment believes that additional Palestinian workers—though fewer than before the war—should be allowed back into the pre-1967 lines to work to help relieve economic pressure and deny the Hamas terror group recruitment opportunities.

Late last year, Israel’s Socioeconomic Cabinet voted against the measure. The entry of more Arab workers was opposed by almost all 15 members of the Cabinet, which is smaller than the full government but includes the finance and economy ministers. Only Agriculture Minister Avi Dichter and Labor Minister Yoav Ben-Tzur abstained.

In January, dozens of Likud lawmakers, including Barkat and Diaspora Affairs Minister Amichai Chikli, signed a letter calling on the Cabinet to “say explicitly that no more Palestinian workers will be allowed to enter.”

“Besides our security obligation, we also have a moral duty—we are not responsible for the livelihood of those who support the murder of Jews in the Land of Israel,” added the missive, noting that some three in four Arab residents of Judea and Samaria hold favorable views of Hamas in the wake of its Oct. 7 massacre of 1,200 people in Israel.

Before Oct. 7, Israel provided work permits for tens of thousands of Palestinians to enter Israel, including from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. According to reports, some of them carried out reconnaissance for the terror group in preparation for the murder onslaught.

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Last month, Jerusalem announced it would attempt to bring in 65,000 foreign workers from India, Sri Lanka and Uzbekistan to replace Palestinian construction workers and avoid a dramatic rise in real estate prices. At the time, an official in the Prime Minister’s Office declined to say whether the decision reflected a policy change going forward.