China’s refusal is delaying a deal on allowing thousands of Chinese construction workers in Israel because Jerusalem won’t promise to exclude them from the settlements.
China is refusing to sign an agreement allowing its nationals to work in Israel, unless the Israeli government promises they will not be employed in the internationally disputed Jewish settlements of the West Bank.
Israel has been trying to negotiate the agreement for a while and has so far refused to give in to the Chinese demand, according to The Marker, the economic daily of Haaretz.
But the issue has taken on some urgency in light of plans by the newly appointed Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon to speed up construction throughout the country and thus reduce housing costs.
Already a year ago, the previous government decided to increase the number of migrant construction workers, and is now seeking to almost double the number to 15,000.
The agreement being sought with China is similar to ones Israel has signed with other countries whose nationals work in Israel – Thailand, Sri Lanka, Romania and Moldova.
It is designed to regulate the “import” of Chinese laborers, who have been forced to pay tens of thousands of dollars in fees to mediators and earned Israel sharp criticism from the United States for failing to crack down on human trafficking.
According to The Marker, most of the disputes between Israel and China over the agreement have been ironed out. This includes Israeli acceptance of a clause allowing local provincial governments in China to tax the Chinese workers up to one month’s salary for allowing them to come to Israel.
Israeli law forbids such fees, but under a compromise reached between the sides, the Israeli contractors who employ the workers will cover the fee and not the employees, according to The Marker.
China and Israel enjoy extensive cooperation on military and technological projects. But China has consistently criticized Israel’s construction of settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. China’s then Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing called the Israeli West Bank barrier wall an obstacle to peace in a September 2006 statement during a UN Security Council meeting. In November 2008, then China Ambassador to the United States Yesui Zhang stated that the “continued construction of settlements on the West Bank is not only in violation of Israel’s obligations under international law, but is also detrimental to guaranteeing Israel’s own security.”
The foreign ministry told The Marker in response that contacts with China on the agreement were ongoing.
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