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July 28—The Israeli government's second largest coalition partner, the Jewish Home Party, has cancelled its plan to apply Israeli labor law to the West Bank after two years of largely successful efforts to pass and prepare for its implementation.
The legislation, submitted in August 2013, was withdrawn under pressure from Jewish farmers in the Jordan Valley, who said applying Israeli norms to Palestinian working conditions would put them out of business.
“We greatly respect our Palestinian workers, but there's no reason to pay them an Israeli salary when they already make much more here than they would in the Palestinian Authority, with its lower costs,” one farmer told Bloomberg BNA July 28.
Farming in the territories also costs more than in Israel proper, he said, noting that the full cost would fall on the farmers since the Israeli government did not intend to cover any state benefits, such as unemployment payments.
The initiative, which the right-wing party originally called a “human rights” and “gender equality” issue, was one of the Jewish Home Party's flagship bills in the previous government, following years of complaints from Palestinian workers, and much progress had been made before its withdrawal:
• The bill was supported by Israel's prime minister, attorney general and then Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, who also heads the Jewish Home Party.
• The cabinet agreed to expedite the initiative in the event of a lengthy legislative process.
• In a legal compromise, the government agreed to apply the labor laws through a military order, so they would not appear as an Israeli annexation attempt, and military prosecutors worked for a year on researching and combining parts of 40 different labor laws into one proposed order.
• The Justice Ministry agreed to establish new labor courts in three of the largest cities in the West Bank to handle Jewish and Palestinian cases.
Farmers in the Jordan Valley, however, consistently opposed the plan, saying the increased wages and benefits they would have to pay their Palestinian workers would bankrupt them.
Bennett's media adviser did not respond to requests for comment.
To contact the reporter on this story: Jenny David in Jerusalem at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Rick Vollmar at email@example.com
For more information on Israeli HR law and regulation, see the Israel primer.
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