President-elect Barack Obama added sweep and meat to his economic agenda on Saturday, pledging the largest new investment in roads and bridges since President Dwight D. Eisenhower built the Interstate system in the late 1950s, and tying his key initiatives – education, energy, health care –back to jobs in a package that has the makings of a smaller and modern version of FDR's New Deal marriage of job creation with infrastructure upgrades. [emphasis added]That being the case, one would think that he would see how the Israeli settlements have a 'New Deal' effect and leave matters be--because among those who are most eager to build those settlements are Palestinian Arabs:
The last thing that Abu Mohammed al-Najjar wants is for Israel to succumb to US and European pressure and halt construction in the West Bank settlements.And this is no small part of the Palestinian economy either:
As far as the 58-year-old laborer is concerned, freezing the construction would be a disaster not only for him and his family, but for thousands of other Palestinians working in various settlements in the West Bank.
Of course, this does not mean that they support Israel's policy of construction in the settlements. But for them, it's simply a matter of being able to support their families.
The phenomenon of Palestinians building new homes for Jewish settlers is not new. In fact, Palestinian laborers have been working in the construction business from the first day the settlements began in the West Bank.The most interesting part of the story is that the Palestinian leaders understand the situation better than Obama. While we read stories about Palestinians accused as collaborators with Israel being tortured or killed, Palestinian Arab who work on building Israeli settlements are allowed to do so:
Today, Palestinian Authority officials estimate, more than 12,000 Palestinians are employed by both Jewish and Arab contractors building new homes in the settlements.
He and most of the laborers interviewed by the Post over the past week said they had never come under pressure from fellow Palestinians to stay away from work in the settlements.Economics is a great equalizer, and an indication that Netanyahu's statements about the priority of economic rehabilitation over creating a second Palestinian state makes sense--especially considering that some of those Palestinian workers are members of Hamas:
"If they want us to leave our work, they should offer us an alternative," Abu Sharikheh said. "We don't come to work in the settlements for ideological reasons or because we support the settlement movement. We come here because our Palestinian and Arab governments haven't done anything to provide us with better jobs."
Back in Ma'aleh Adumim, most of the Palestinian laborers said they had no problem revealing their identities.
"We're not doing anything wrong," explained Ibrahim Abu Tair, a 42-year-old father of eight from the village of Um Tuba, southwest of Jerusalem. "We're not collaborators and we're not terrorists. We just want to work."
He said that during the first intifada, which began at the end of 1987, some Palestinian groups tried to stop Palestinians from heading to work in the settlements.
"In the beginning there were threats and physical assaults on some workers," he noted. "But the leaders of the intifada later realized that depriving the laborers of their livelihood would have a boomerang effect on the Palestinians. That's why they allowed the workers to go to the settlements."
Even today the PA does not object to Palestinians working in settlements, although its representatives say they would like to see the Palestinians work elsewhere.
"We can't tell the workers to stay at home without providing them with solutions," admitted a Palestinian official in Ramallah. "We're talking about thousands of families in the West Bank that rely on this work as their sole source of income."
He [Jawdat Uwaisat] added that even Palestinians known as supporters of Hamas and Islamic Jihad are employed as construction workers in settlements.Of course, the fact that the job pays well helps:
"I know some people from Hamas who work as construction laborers in Ariel," he said. "When people want to feed their children, they don't think twice."
While most of the laborers told the Post that they were opposed to the settlements, they nevertheless stressed that they would continue to show up for work every day.
He said that he and his colleagues working for Israelis earn almost three times what they would receive doing the same work for Palestinian construction companies.Pursuing Obama's demand for freezing the settlements will only do to the Palestinian economy what is already being done to the economy in the US.
"The Palestinian employers pay us NIS 100 to NIS 150 a day," Uwaisat said. "The Israeli companies, by contrast, pay NIS 350 to NIS 450 a day. That's why many of us prefer to work for Israeli companies, even if the construction is in the settlements."