GENEVA (ILO News) – The annual report of the International Labour Office (ILO) on the situation of workers of the occupied Arab territories depicts “ a dismal human, economic and social situation in the occupied Arab territories, overshadowed by stalled peace negotiations” (Note 1).
“In the aftermath of the devastating war at the turn of the year, the situation in Gaza has all the ingredients of a humanitarian catastrophe. The population is effectively sealed off from the rest of the world and lives on international assistance. With thousands of factories closed and people out of work, the modern economy has ground to a halt, replaced by informal makeshift activity and the tunnel economy”, the report says.
In contrast, the situation of workers and families in the West Bank appears to have benefited from a slight improvement in security and economic activity.
However, “this lull has not been able to halt, much less reverse, the decline in average incomes and the grim employment outlook. Closure measures, including the Separation Wall and intensified settlement activity in occupied territory, have kept a tight lid on any economic shoots that might appear”, the report says.
The ILO mission observed continued expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. “The presence of increasing numbers of Israeli settlers directly harms the livelihood of Palestinians, who are barred from access to land and other resources (notably water), and from building housing and economic infrastructure (notably enterprises), and entails severe restrictions on the movement of persons and goods”, the report says.
In East Jerusalem, the Arab population is subject to increasing pressures on dwellings, habitat, residency rights and consequently jobs and livelihoods. According to the report, “East Jerusalem has been basically cut off from its social, economic and political context in the West Bank”.
The report also says that “Syrian citizens living in the occupied Syrian Golan face serious obstacles in pursuing their livelihoods and occupations”, and that their access to land and water remains “severely constrained”.
The findings of the report are based on missions sent to the occupied Arab territories and Israel and to the Syrian Arab Republic earlier this year to assess the situation of workers of the occupied Arab territories, including the West Bank, Gaza and the Golan. The ILO mission also consulted with the Arab Labour Organization (ALO) and the League of Arab States in Cairo.
The report evokes the concerns of the ILO mission about the fact that over half of those in the 15-29 age group are neither in education nor in employment. According to the report, this is not only “a waste of precious human resources … but, in the context of the occupied territories, a dangerous mix”.
The report also shows that the Palestinian economy and labour market are unable to function under occupation. Modest GDP growth registered in 2008 over 2007 did not translate into income growth, owing to the increase of the population. Real GDP per capita remains some 28 per cent below the peak of 1999.
“Continuing high unemployment and low-productivity employment go hand in hand with persistent and humiliating poverty. Destroyed livelihoods and uncertain future prospects lead to despair and frustration for too many Palestinian children, women and men”, the report says. This was reflected in a steep increase in unemployment in Gaza, from 28.9 per cent to 44.8 per cent. According to the report, these numbers are likely to have increased even more following the military invasion of Gaza in January 2009.
The report refers to five key potentials for positive change, including the lifting of the Gaza siege and implementing the 2005 Agreement on Movement and Access in the West Bank and Gaza Strip; freeing private business and workers from the restrictions on access and movement; bringing intra-Palestinian reconciliation to tangible results; continuing the improvement of public governance by the Palestinian Authority; and maximizing the employment content of international assistance.
The mission witnessed an expanded ILO technical cooperation programme for the occupied Arab territories, approved and formally endorsed by the Palestinian Minister of Labour in May 2008. This employment programme targets the strengthening of labour market governance and rights; the improvement of employability through skills and local economic development; and promoting entrepreneurship and productivity for private sector growth.
According to the report, important progress has been made in integrating ILO technical assistance into the programming and planning of the UN country team. The ILO participates in activities related to the promotion of women’s social, economic and political empowerment in the occupied Palestinian territories, the Palestinian Early Recovery and Reconstruction Plan for Gaza 2009-10 and the Palestinian Employment Programme.
The mission also highlighted the role of the social partners and the support they need and can expect from the ILO. “Their contribution to revitalizing battered enterprises and workplaces is essential under any circumstances”, the report says.
The ILO report calls on the international community to engage more forcefully “to overcome the never-ending series of privations suffered by the Palestinians of the occupied Arab territories and allow them to exercise their legitimate right to statehood, in dignity and in peace with all of their neighbours”.
Note 1 – The situation of workers of the occupied Arab territories, Appendix to the Report of the Director-General to the International Labour Conference, 98th Session, International Labour Office, Geneva, 2009.