Barry Newman

Two issues for today…not the day after

Hardly a day goes by when the day after is not raised as a topic of discussion. Politicians, journalists, academics and pundits of all shapes and sizes eagerly share what they believe to be the optimum post-war model for Israel, the Palestinians, and the entire Middle East. Paradigms suggested take into consideration, among others factors, the involvement of Iran, the relationship with Saudi Arabia, and the interests of the United States. All of which, unfortunately, rely on too many variables and unknown influences; the projections and visions therefore amount to little more than think tank discussions. Or, more correctly perhaps, cocktail-party chatter.

Two points that are raised continuously, however, do need to be focused on well before the day after arrives. The future of diplomatic relations with those countries that have charged Israel with genocide, the status of the Abraham Accords, and security enhancements to ensure that the Simchat Torah Reign of Terror is never repeated are most certainly on the agenda, but serious debate will wait until the end of the hostilities. What cannot be delayed are the responses to the increasingly vocal calls to prevent the return of a Palestinian labor force and to accept as reality that a purely centrist government – unfettered or unhyphenated by either an ideological right or left – is nothing more than a fairy tale.

Palestinian workforce

For more than three decades, ever since the first intifada, there has been debate regarding the employment of Palestinians in Israeli businesses and construction projects, on both sides of the green line. The terrorist car ramming that occurred in Raanana several weeks ago – the one that left one lady dead and several others badly wounded – gave renewed energy to a demand that Palestinians be banned from returning to where they were employed prior to October 7. Arguments have been advanced that both skilled and unskilled foreign workers from China, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Hungary and other places can be used to create a different employment model, one that will no longer rely on Palestinian labor. A nice idea, to be sure, but one that will, in the long run, simply not work.

Many Israeli employers and contractors rely on the advantages of an unprotected workforce that the Palestinians provide. The conditions of their employment are governed by neither personal contract nor collective bargaining agreements, and the opportunity to address employment-related grievances or abuses in a court of law are far and few between. That they receive lower wages than their Israeli (Jewish and Arab alike) colleagues and relatively few work-related perks and benefits are factored into budgets, cost estimates and quotes. It should therefore come as no surprise that many businesses have curtailed operations or even closed since the start of the war; Jewish labor, in many cases, is either unavailable or too expensive.

While foreign workers are, to some extent, filling the gap in the construction and agriculture sectors, there, too, it’s only a matter of time before cries to bring back the Palestinians will fill the skies. More likely than not, foreign workers are hired through one agency or another, which means additional overhead expenses. Palestinians, moreover, are in no position to demand appropriate compensation for overtime or for work performed during weekends or on holidays. And unlike other foreign workers – those, for example, from Sri Lanka, India, and Thailand – there are no smiling diplomatic representatives or attaches to ensure that citizens from their countries are being treated fairly and honestly.

The two terrorists who were behind the Raanana attack had been working illegally in Israel. Others, to be sure, are being smuggled in or finding ways to sneak through or under the demarcation line. It is therefore urgent that our government design a workable and beneficial solution to this issue before the day after arrives. The fact that a sizable segment of the Israeli economy has become, to no small extent, dependent on Palestinian labor cannot be denied. Somehow, we must be ready to implement a strategy that achieves profit and efficiency without compromising security as soon as the current hostilities come to an end.

Wonderland’s centrist arty

From the onset of the war, there has been, repeatedly, dire warnings that a “centrist” party must replace the factionalized, special interest ones that the Israeli electorate are asked to choose from. Parties attempting to bring together all points of view are not something new on the political spectrum. On the contrary, The Third Way, under the leadership of Avigdor Kahalani, had some initial success in 1996 due to its novelty and then, in 1999, Defense Minister Yitzchak Mordechai established what was boldly called the Center Party. Both, not surprisingly, disappeared not all that much longer after they made their appearance.

More recently, we experienced the arrangement between Naftali Bennet and Yair Lapid, which was intended to revolutionize Israeli politics and introduce unprecedented cooperation between parties – including one representing Israel’s Arab population – throughout the political spectrum. That patchwork coalition lasted just long enough to make us realize that compromise is an anathema in Israeli politics, and for that reason a legitimate and stable centrist-party is, unfortunately, a pipe dream. And despite its ambitious name, Gantz’s National Unity Party is hardly unscathed by charges of being triggered by a left-field platform.

The Jerusalem Post’s interim editor-in-chief recently called for something he referred to as a “centrist-Zionist” party, arguing, correctly, that Israel’s political system is in dire need of a reboot. That idea too, however, has been advanced time and time again. What’s clear, though, is that the two notions cannot work in sync; that reboot is the chicken and the centrist party the egg.

With only a single legislative body and a president whose functions and authorities are largely ceremonial, there are few influences in Israel that can forge a fusion of starkly different platforms. The right, for example, would have to abandon its call for settlement expansion and sovereignty, while the left would be required to set aside demands for civil marriage and a more liberal conversion policy. Hardly likely scenarios; few, we’ve seen, are prepared to straddle the fence.

For the time being, then, energy and resources should not be foolishly wasted on attempting to create something that is not part of the Israeli DNA. The national unity and cohesiveness that the war brought about is already beginning to erode. Asking the various parties that currently exist to willingly modify their principles and convictions will, in the end, do more harm than good.

Focus on today, not tomorrow

Despite the pounding that Gaza has been receiving, there is still no certainty when the day after will arrive. Israel’s plate is full to the rim; the fate of the hostages, the second front against Hezbollah, and the perpetual threat of Iran leave little room for future planning. The well-being of our economy and political stability, however, cannot be postponed. For that reason, these two urgent issues – providing for the return of Palestinian labor and an acknowledgement that a centrist party is a foolish ideal – must be dealt with today and not be pushed off for the day after.

About the Author
Born and raised on New York’s Lower East Side, Barry's family made aliya in 1985. He worked as a Technical Writer for most of his professional life (with a brief respite for a venture in catering) and currently provides ad hoc assistance to amutot in the preparation of requests for grants. And not inconsequently, he is a survivor of stage 4 bladder cancer, and though he doesn't wake up each day smelling the roses, he has an appreciation of what it means to be alive.
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