RAMALLAH (Ma'an) -- Speaking out to clarify Israeli media reports suggesting the Palestinian Authority had decided to reduce restrictions on West Bankers seeking work in settlements, government officials told Ma'an Tuesday that progress on the ban was being made, explaining that the policy of zero Palestinians working in settlements would take time to realize.
“The PA is progressing gradually with its plan to enforce a boycott on work in Israeli settlements by encouraging laborers to abstain from taking jobs there," PA spokesman Ghassan Khatib said Tuesday.
Responding to a report in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, which said the PA had "reconsidered a proposal that would have barred Palestinian laborers from working in West Bank Jewish settlements," Khatib said officials were planning to go ahead with the boycott option, but at a pace that could ensure parallel work opportunities for Palestinians in local markets.
In May, PA Minister of National Economy Hasan Abu Libda announced the goal of zero Palestinians working in Israeli settlements by the end of 2011, saying that the interim years would see increased investment into local businesses, and efforts to create jobs to absorb would-be settlement laborers.
The Haaretz report, however, said figures indicated that the number of Palestinians employed in settlements rose by at least 3,000 between 2009-10.
While a boycott on goods made in Israeli settlements was proposed, a campaign organized and laws pushed through in a matter of months over the summer, when the ban extended to the sale of mobile phone SIM cards, phone plans and pay-as-you-go cards from Israeli companies with phone towers in settlements, the response time lagged, with products still largely available.
The issue, vendors say, is that without a Palestinian telecom company that provides service in the West Bank and Jerusalem, Israeli companies are the only option for customers who travel across the Israeli barrier. Many say they have not been visited by PA officials charged with enforcing the boycott.
Legislation for the widened boycott affecting Palestinians working in Israeli settlements remains pending, with Haaretz charging that "the PA has decided not to push for legislation on the issue because it is unable to offer the workers alternative employment."
The PA is "not reconsidering the decision to bar Palestinian laborers in the West Bank from working in Israeli settlements," Khatib explained in a statement.