The situation of workers in the occupied Arab territories remains precarious, ILO says

Realities of the occupation on the ground and the expansion of Israeli settlements, leading to a shrinking space for Palestinian, makes the situation of workers in the occupied Arab territories extremely worrying and precarious.

Press release | 04 June 2012
GENEVA (ILO News) – The situation of workers in the occupied Arab territories is extremely worrying and remains precarious according to the annual report of the International Labour Organization (ILO) submitted to the 101st Session of the International Labour Conference.

This is above all due to the realities of the occupation on the ground and the unabated expansion of Israeli settlements, leading to a shrinking space for Palestinian development, says the report.

Kari Tapiola, Special Advisor to the ILO Director-General, expresses concerns over the increasing Israel's control of "Area C" of the West Bank
This is particularly true in what is called “Area C” of the West Bank, which is to be an essential part of a future Palestinian State. This area covers 60 per cent of the land mass of the West Bank but continues to be under full Israeli control, with Palestinians denied access to their livelihoods and to one another.

“The peace process is at a standstill more than at any time since the Oslo Accords” of 1993, says ILO Director-General Juan Somavia in his preface to the report. He considers that the evolving facts on the ground seriously diminish the scope for a negotiated two-State solution.

“This is due to a particularly damaging combination of political intransigence, the incapacity of outside actors to assist the parties or effectively exercise influence on them, volatility in the region, and the elusiveness of Palestinian reconciliation.”

On the occasion of releasing the report, Director-General Somavia calls for a development and peace logic which is based on a long-term vision of the economic, employment and security interests of all workers in both the occupied Arab territories and Israel. He further states that actions resulting from the stalemate in the peace process also produce insecurity in Israeli society.

The Director-General expressed his serious concern about the response by international cooperation partners, which has been weaker than before. This further undermines the task of ensuring a basic level of subsistence for a large share of the people, let alone the capacity to support the few positive indicators there are.

The report emphasizes that there is no viable or just alternative to ending the occupation of the Arab territories. “The Palestinian economy has reached limits which cannot be overcome without action on the two major constraints it faces: occupation and separation,” states the report.

“The existence and viability of a fully functioning Palestinian State are in jeopardy if no political solution is in sight, if the heavy military and economic occupation becomes even more severe, and if the settlement economy becomes further integrated into the Israeli economy,” the report says. It also expresses concern about the recent growth of violent acts undertaken by both settlers and the Palestinians against one another.

The report recognizes some advances. The trend of higher economic growth witnessed in the Occupied Palestinian Territory between 2008 and 2010 continued in 2011, as real GDP grew by 10.7 per cent. This overall figure was significantly affected by a 26.6 per cent rise in GDP in Gaza.

The report cautions, however, that the growth in Gaza “is far from indicative of a healthier economy, as it resulted overwhelmingly from a boom in construction activity fuelled by the tunnel economy, combined with an increase in building materials allowed in through Israel for reconstruction projects of international organizations.”

The report says that unemployment in the Occupied Palestinian Territory declined by 4.1 per cent in 2011 to 222,000 people, resulting in an overall unemployment rate of 21 per cent, compared to 23.7 per cent in 2010. This is primarily due to a reduction in the unemployment rate in Gaza by more than 9 per cent, but overall unemployment is still higher than what it was in 2000 when opportunities to work in Israel were significantly curtailed.

Future employment is clearly one of the biggest concerns facing Palestinian youth, the report says. Last year 53.5 per cent of young women and 32.2 per cent of young men aged 15 to 24 were unemployed. Given that 71 per cent of Palestinians are under 30 years of age, the report calls for urgent action to address the education crisis in East Jerusalem, to cease the demolition of schools in the West Bank, and to stop the erosion of skills in Gaza.

'Social Dimension' is key to the Palestinian state building, says Special Advisor to the ILO Director-General
Despite the difficulties on the ground, the report notes that the process of building a Palestinian State continues. This process requires “Palestinian reconciliation on a democratic basis and respecting the desire of people.” The report also underlines the need for this process to “encompass institutions and policies for job creation, social dialogue, gender equality, social security and fair incomes.”

One of the conclusions of the report is that gender equality needs to be pursued with determination and young women and men need to be empowered, particularly through the establishment and effective functioning of youth councils.

Besides the advance in Palestinian State building the report also notes the changes towards democracy and greater openness in the Arab world as elements of hope.

The findings of the report are based on a mission sent earlier this year to the occupied Arab territories and Israel to assess the situation of workers of the occupied Arab territories, including the occupied Syrian Golan. Since 1980, the Director-General has had the mandate to present an annual report on this topic to the International Labour Conference.