The number of coronavirus cases in the Palestinian-controlled territories appears to be low, but the official figure likely doesn’t reflect reality.
In mid-April, the Palestinian Authority reported 260 coronavirus patients in its areas, but observers estimate over 6,000. The Israeli government by now knows to take official Palestinian data with a big grain of salt. Accordingly, Israel is refusing entry to Palestinians from areas where coronavirus has been confirmed. One such area is Bethlehem and its surroundings, where residents now realize that being cut off from Israel is a major detriment to their economic wellbeing. Construction and factory workers, as well as healthcare professionals are most severely affected.
In normal times, around 130,000 Palestinians have permits to work in Israel, and thousands more enter illegally in search of employment. Those who still work in Israel today are concerned that they will be refused entry if there is a corona outbreak in their hometown.
Unsurprisingly, the corruption-riddled Palestinian Authority has no mechanism to sustain its own people in such times. The $20 million it has requested to alleviate the situation will accomplish little at this point. As a result, many Palestinian laborers are seeking assistance from Israel, which has yet to respond to their requests.
But there are other means of economic aid for Palestinians. Those who are officially employed in Israel pay 18.5 percent of their income to a pension fund. It is conceivable that the government is already releasing part of this money. Israeli employees also pay monthly to a “sick day fund” for Palestinian workers, and this could also be tapped. The current value of this fund is estimated at 500 million shekels.
Palestinian representatives anticipate a major economic crisis for their people, which could eventually explode in a wave of opposition, and possibly violence, against their own leaders.