Analysis: A settlement boycott Palestinians don't back

By Nathan Jeffay, November 4, 2010
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In May, the Palestinian Authority announced that it will become a crime for Palestinians to work in settlements. But all indications are that come the first day of the ban, January 1, Palestinian workers will be going to settlement jobs as normal and nobody will bat an eyelid.

Palestinian politicians and settler leaders alike estimate that 25,000 Palestinians work in settlements - in industry, building and municipality maintenance jobs. The PA's labour ban was intended to reinforce its message that settlements are illegal by stopping Palestinians from depending on them economically, and by harming settlement economies.

Previous PA moves to delegitimise settlements were relatively popular with the Palestinian public. Earlier this year the PA banned settlement-produced goods from the Palestinian market - with the support, according to a poll by the Palestinian Centre for Policy and Survey Research, of some 72 per cent of Palestinians.

But with the decree against work in settlements, it seems that the PA went one step too far for its constituents' liking. The same poll found that only 38 per cent support and some 60 per cent oppose this legislation. Even Palestinians who are more hard-line than the PA have criticised it. Ahmad Muheisin, a refugee camp committee member, told Palestine TV's No Spin talkshow that the decision was "hasty".

This is a matter of simple economics

As far as most Palestinians are concerned, it is a matter of simple economics. Take 25,000 Palestinians out of the workforce without replacement jobs for them to go to and that means an even larger number of families - more than 25,000, as each worker tends to support more than one family unit - without a source of income.

The PA realises that it will need to work hard at generating new employment opportunities if it is to garner public support for the labour ban. Leaders are now talking among themselves about implementation far later than December 31. Some Palestinian industrialists wonder whether the ban will come to fruition at all.

If the PA does eventually succeed, the effect on settlements will be much smaller than it wants. It introduced this ban when it was on a high after the boycott of settlement goods, which has had the desired effect of hurting settlements - by depriving them of a local market. But when it comes to labour, there is no such dependence. Settlers have a government-backed plan to replace Palestinian workers with foreign workers ready to roll - and say that the extra cost will be minimal.

    Last updated: 4:49pm, November 4 2010