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The Palestinian Authority is intensifying a boycott of Jewish settlements in the West Bank. Palestinian workers are being asked to quit their jobs in settlements and boycott any goods made in the settlements. But the fund that is supposed to pay for all this is mired in bureaucracy. Linda Gradstein reports from the Jewish settlement of Modi'in Illit.
KATY CLARK: The Palestinian Authority is intensifying a boycott of Jewish settlements in the West Bank. Officials are urging Palestinians not to buy settlement products. And Palestinian workers are being asked to quit their jobs in settlements which Palestinians say are built on land meant to be the Palestinian state. But the boycott faces challenges as Linda Gradstein reports from a Jewish settlement in the West Bank.
LINDA GRADSTEIN: Younis Salah, a father of five from a Palestinian village near Bethlehem, spends his days building apartments for Jewish settlers in the ultra-Orthodox settlement of Modi'in Illit. He works a long day from about 6 in the morning to four in the afternoon supervising a crew of 50 workers, all of them Palestinians. He says he takes home about $1300 a month, considered an excellent salary in the West Bank. But Salah says working in a Jewish settlement isn't his first choice of a job.
YOUNIS SALAH: There is no alternative whatsoever in the Palestinian areas. I have to bring food to the table, to my family. I have a sick child that I have to treat. There is no work in the Palestinian areas. What kind of work can I do there to give me the same amount of money that I get in the settlements here?
GRADSTEIN: Israeli officials say there are some 25,000 Palestinians working in Jewish settlements. Yunis believes the number is a lot higher. He says there are thousands of temporary workers without the special permits needed to enter settlements and so aren't counted. These workers say they're the sole breadwinners of their large families, meaning at least a quarter of a million Palestinians are dependent on these jobs in Jewish settlements. Last month, with great fanfare, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas signed a law making it illegal for Palestinians to work in settlements. Soon afterwards, Abbas announced a 50 million dollar fund to provide those Palestinians with new jobs. Salah says he's heard about the fund and supports it mostly.
SALAH: I heard about it and I'm very pleased about it. If they are capable of providing proper work for us with a good wage I will leave my work tomorrow. But I do not want to hear 400, 500 shekels a month. This will not be satisfactory for us.
GRADSTEIN: It's also not clear exactly when this fund will start paying out. Dr. Hassan al-Khatib, the Palestinian Deputy Minister of Labor, says the fund won't just hand out money, but will alter the Palestinian economy.
HASSAN AL-KHATIB: The objective of setting up a fund to provide employment for workers in settlements, the objective is to disconnect economically with Israeli occupations. Second objective is we would like to restructure the Palestinian economy.
GRADSTEIN: The money will be used, he says, for loans to establish small businesses in the West Bank as well as providing temporary salaries while workers look for new jobs. He says he hopes that by the end of 2011 there won't be any reason for Palestinians to work in settlements. The pressure on workers to leave settlement jobs is just the latest phase in the Palestinian Authority's boycott of the settlements. Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad has spearheaded a campaign to boycott settlement products. He has said that last year Palestinians bought some 200 million dollars worth of settler goods. In the past few months, thousands of university students have gone door to door asking Palestinians not to buy any of the hundreds of settler products sold in the West Bank, from furniture to ice cream. In some cases Palestinian security officials have intercepted shipments of settlement goods en route to West Bank businesses and burned them. Hafez Barghouti, the editor in chief of the Palestinian newspaper al-Hayat al Jadida says the boycott effort is catching on, especially with kids. But Barghouti says you can't ask workers to quit their jobs without offering an alternative.
HAFEZ BARGHOUTI: In our peaceful struggle against settlement, not just demonstration, we have to boycott Israeli products in this area and at the same time keep our workers out of the settlement. Before that we do that [INDISCERNABLE] to provide these workers alternatives by helping them or create jobs here or make training courses for them. It must work.
GRADSTEIN: Back in Modi'in Illit, Younis Salah says his Israeli bosses are pushing him to finish the new buildings as quickly as possible, worried about possible US pressure for a settlement freeze. Why are they building so fast?
SALAH: Maybe Obama politically pushed on Israel to stop building settlements so they are fasting the building.
GRADSTEIN: They're trying to do it fast?
GRADSTEIN: Salah says the four buildings he's working on, each with 22 apartments, should be done by the end of the year. For The World, I'm Linda Gradstein in Modi'in Illit, on the West Bank.