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Security Cabinet dispute delays decision on entry of Arab workers to Israel

While the heads of the IDF, Israel Security Agency and National Security Council argued in favor of the workers' entry, subject to restrictions, the Israel Police and key Likud figures opposed the move.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads a government meeting, Dec. 10, 2023. Photo by Kobi Gideon/GPO.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads a government meeting, Dec. 10, 2023. Photo by Kobi Gideon/GPO.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday put off a vote on whether to readmit Arab day workers into Israel, after ministers expressed opposition during a stormy three-hour debate.

During a Security Cabinet meeting, the heads of the IDF, Shin Bet and National Security Council argued in favor of the return of Palestinian day workers from Judea and Samaria. Frustrated workers unable to make a living creates a “pressure cooker” situation in the region, they said, which could spark more terror attacks.

Netanyahu reportedly supported the readmission of Arab workers as well.

Acknowledging the concern that Palestinian workers could take advantage of their entry to carry out terror attacks within Israel, security officials proposed tightened restrictions, transferring workers in groups on buses directly to job sites and preventing them from roaming freely once in the country.

Israeli industry is suffering due to a worker shortage, hit doubly by the absence of Israeli workers, many of whom have been called up for military service, and by the loss of Arab workers prevented from entering Israel. Israeli employers describe assembly lines shut down while half-completed buildings stand silent; Arabs make up many of Israel’s construction workers.

However, the head of the Israel Police expressed opposition to the workers’ reentry, as did a number of key Likud figures, including Justice Minister Yariv Levin, Transport Minister Miri Regev and Energy Minister Israel Katz.

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich of the Religious Zionism Party also opposed the return of Arab workers. According to Channel 12, he issued an ultimatum to Netanyahu, saying that “if it is approved, you will find another finance minister.”

Economy and Industry Minister Nir Barkat of the Likud also opposed the workers’ entry, repeating his public stance following Sunday’s meeting of the Socioeconomic Cabinet, which voted down the idea.

National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir of the Otzma Yehudit Party also opposed the workers’ readmission. Those close to the minister were quoted as saying, “Bringing in workers from Judea and Samaria is essentially no different from bringing in laborers from Gaza, the results of which blew up in our faces on the Black Sabbath,” referring to the Oct. 7 Hamas massacre.

“Those workers [day laborers from Gaza] cooperated and passed information to the Hamas terrorists. Moreover, their entry into Israel means the entry of people who are exposed to daily incitement in mosques and in the Arab media against Israel. We must not repeat the same Gaza model of bringing in laborers from Judea and Samaria—it’s a recipe for disaster,” the sources said.

Interior Minister Moshe Arbel of the haredi Shas Party said the time was not yet ripe for the workers’ return.

Some 50,000 to 60,000 Palestinian Arab workers entered Israel daily before Oct. 7, after which a closure was imposed for security reasons. (Israel still permits the entry of 4,000 to 5,000 Arab workers for what are deemed essential needs.)

Opponents to Arab workers have expressed the need for a long-term solution, such as their replacement with foreign workers.

“We must develop alternatives that will allow us economic independence so that even in this war and the next we will not be dependent on them, because of terrorism. The industry does not want to employ them either,” Barkat reportedly said.

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