by Gustavo Capdevila
(IPS) GENEVA -- The Palestinian National Authority, the Israeli government, and the international community must make every effort to help ensure decent jobs for the men and women in the occupied Arab territories, recommends a new report by the International Labor Organization (ILO).
Unemployment has climbed to nearly 26 percent in the Palestinian territories, which represents a record 224,000 unemployed, said ILO Director-General Juan Somavia.
Security in Israel is inextricably linked to the security of the Palestinian people in the occupied territories, says the report, which was released May 27.
Unemployment remains appallingly high despite growth in Palestinian domestic output in 2004 after four years of recession, said Somavia.
The report is based on the observations of an ILO mission sent to Israel, the Palestinian territories and Syria to assess conditions faced by workers in the areas occupied by Israel, including the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and the Golan Heights.
One particularly alarming aspect of the labor outlook in the region is the fact that unemployment among youngsters between the ages of 14 and 24 stands at 40 percent, said Corinne Perthius, a spokeswoman for the ILO, which is a United Nations agency.
Despite the new climate of dialogue between Israeli and Palestinian authorities, conditions for workers, and for young people in particular, remain extremely difficult in the occupied territories, she added.
The situation of young workers around the world will be a central focus of the conference that will draw representatives of labor, business and governments to Geneva next week, said Perthius.
The ILO mission found that one out of three Palestinians aged 15 to 24 are in a situation of "forced idleness," which means they are neither working nor studying.
"Idleness among young people faced with military occupation makes a fertile breeding ground for extremism and violence," the report warns.
To promote the creation of decent, productive jobs, the ILO "calls for a rapid lifting of closures, better access to the Israeli labor market, and improved trade facilities, as well as putting an end to discrimination against Arab people in the occupied Syrian Golan."
Daily life for most Palestinians in the West Bank and Golan Heights is shaped by restrictions of movements of goods and persons through a network of checkpoints, roadblocks, fences, walls, road gates, earth mounds, trenches, military posts and observation towers, the ILO points out.
And the restrictions have now been strengthened by the "Separation Wall" being built by Israel, often to the east of the armistice line or Green Line drawn up in 1949 to separate the state of Israel from the West Bank and Gaza Strip, says the report.
The barriers, which also exist within the West Bank, arbitrarily restrict the free movement of persons and goods, it adds.
"External closure of the territories restricts the flow of Palestinian workers into Israel, and the volume of trade between the West Bank and Gaza and between those areas, Israel and the rest of the world," says the ILO.
"In effect, external closure has thrown some 100,000 Palestinian workers into unemployment" since the September 2000 start of the second intifada, the Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation. The first intifada broke out in 1987.
As a result of the closures, Palestinian gross domestic product plummeted for four years, says the ILO.
The wages of 57 percent of wage earners in the occupied territories in 2004 were not enough to pull a family of two adults and six children out of poverty, says the report, which underlines that around half of the Palestinian population of 1.8 million live in poverty.
Citing observations made last year by Somavia, who said the elimination of restrictions of movements of people and goods was a requisite for the application of fundamental labor rights and for the development of the productive potential in the occupied territories, the report states that "This still holds true."
"Although the new climate of confidence and dialogue the mission found this year is tainted by worrying developments that make for an uncertain future, this report wishes to encourage every effort towards decent and productive work for women and men in the occupied Arab territories and in Israel," the ILO concluded.
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