Warning of a "socio-economic meltdown" in the occupied territories, the International Labour Organization (ILO) today called on Israel to ease movement restrictions on Palestinians and urged the world community to support a dialogue between the two sides.
In a new report which will be presented to the agency's annual conference next week, the ILO examines both the "deep humanitarian crisis" facing Palestinian families as well as the "very negative impact" of the current situation on Israel's economy.
Real wages for Palestinian workers in Israel dropped by nearly 46 per cent in 2001 compared to the preceding year, while the revenue of the Palestinian Authority plummeted by more than 70 per cent, according to the report. Preliminary ILO estimates suggest that "unemployment could have reached nearly 43 per cent in the occupied territories during the first quarter of 2002."
Israel has not escaped the upheaval, the report states. Economic activity in the country suffered a severe contraction during 2001, with GDP declining by 0.5 per cent that year after an increase of 6.4 per cent in 2000.
ILO Director-General Juan Somavia said the report "must be read with a sense of empathy and compassion for all concerned." Any resolution of the conflict, he stressed, must be based on a dialogue which provides a "fair hearing" for workers in the occupied Arab territories and their families. "At the same time, the voices of workers in Israel must be heard and listened to," he said. "No one can be satisfied with the present situation or, worse still, a further escalation of conflict."
Mr. Somavia said the international community, notably those countries with greater influence, "need to reassess the means of action so we can respond to what all families in the region want: parents at work, children at school, security in the streets and peace in the community."
The ILO Director-General called peace "the innermost aspiration of the large majority of Palestinians and Israelis" and added, "The world must help them to get there."