February 15, 2016 / 3:20 PM / 2 years ago

Israel cabinet vote imminent on plan to increase Palestinian workers

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel’s cabinet will likely vote within two weeks on a proposal to allow another 33,000 Palestinian construction workers into Israel as the government seeks to ease the economic hardship that officials say has fueled a wave of Palestinian attacks.

Palestinian labourers pray after crossing through Israel's Eyal checkpoint near the West Bank town of Qalqilya, in this June 13, 2010 file photo. REUTERS/Baz Ratner/Files

Some 43,000 Palestinians already work in the sector that does not usually attract Israeli labor.

Israeli Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon told a news conference on Monday he planned to bring the proposal to the cabinet for a vote on Sunday or the following Sunday.

Police say most of the Palestinian attacks since October have been carried out by Palestinians who cross into Israel without permits from the West Bank. Israeli security forces have killed at least 163 Palestinians, 107 of whom Israel says were assailants while Palestinians have killed 27 Israelis and a U.S. citizen.

As well as frustration over Jewish settlement-building, deemed illegal by the United Nations, on land Palestinians want for a state, tensions have been rising over Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa mosque compound and Islamist calls for Israel’s destruction.

Israeli military officials have said that improving the economic conditions for Palestinians could help alleviate the hardship that is partly fuelling the attacks.

In the West Bank, about 30 percent of Palestinians between the ages of 20 and 29 are unemployed, according to data from the Palestinian Statistics Bureau for the third quarter of 2015.

“We will get to more than 70,000 Palestinian construction workers,” the minister said, adding that funds would also be increased to allow for a smoother border crossing from Palestinian areas into Israel.

About 55,000 Palestinians have permits to work in Israel, mostly in construction and agriculture, while another 30,000 undocumented Palestinian laborers also enter Israel daily.

Kahlon also said he was committed to re-implementing a two year government budget for 2017-2018, while there were no plans to further reduce taxes despite solid tax collections.

He said a rise in the housing purchase tax to 10 percent from 8 percent in 2015 that was aimed at reducing the amount of home purchases for investment had worked and boosted state coffers by 1.2 billion shekels ($309 million), money used to pay for soldiers’ pay hikes and allocations to the elderly.

Reporting by Steven Scheer; Editing by Alison Williams

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