Jerusalem (CNS) - The Palestinian Authority has banned Arabs from working on Jewish communities in disputed territories, in a decision that will affect tens of thousands of Palestinians who depend on breadwinners working in industry, construction and agriculture.
The PA regards the settlements - home to some 180,000 Israelis - as one of the most serious barriers to the establishment of a future independent state.
PA security force officers first announced the ban on work at settlements in the Gaza Strip earlier this month, and Palestinian police were reported to have physically prevented some workers from getting to their jobs.
Some workers told their former employees they were threatened with a year in jail and a $2,500 fine if they refused to comply.
The ruling has now been expanded to cover all Jewish communities, in Gaza as well as Judea-Samaria (the "West Bank"), say settlement leaders.
They have criticized the move as a cynical political gesture that is hurting the Palestinians themselves, and may lead to more instability and, possibly, violence.
As for the settlements, they can hire other workers, and are already doing so.
The International Labor Organization estimates that up to 33 per cent of working age Arab residents of Gaza are unemployed. The figure is a little lower in the Judea-Samaria.
"Among Palestinians, the feeling against the settlements is quite hostile," Palestinian political analyst Ghassan Khatib told CNSNews.com.
"But many Palestinians are still working on settlements, their first priority it to make a living, so there is a contradiction.
"The PA should give alternative job appointments for those people, to try to prevent, or minimize, working on settlements."
Khatib said the PA could successfully prevent Palestinians from reaching jobs in Gaza, where PA control was more pervasive, but that it would prove difficult "logistically" elsewhere.
"The Palestinian leadership still hasn't realized that the economic welfare of its people should be the top goal," said Yehudit Tayar, spokesperson for the Yesha Council of Jewish Communities.
"Whatever price people have to pay, [they do so] as long as the political statement is made," she told CNSNews.com Wednesday.
"In some places, Palestinian Arabs are in dire straits financially. The Palestinian Authority is not offering job replacements for these workers."
Tayar could not put a figure to the number of employees concerned, but said it was "certainly thousands," and included some who had taken on positions of responsibility in industrial parks over the years.
She cited another recent decision by the PA, prohibiting municipal cooperation between mayors of neighboring Arab and Jewish towns.
"There are issues that affect both communities - environmental matters, road infrastructure, even controlling mosquitoes - but the PA says there will be no contact between their mayors and our council heads.
"They are not trying to help their people, but using them as pawns to make political statements."
And all the while, she added, the PA was "talking about stability, a new relationship, and peaceful coexistence."
The PA wants Jewish settlements dismantled as part of a final negotiated deal that leads to a sovereign state. Israeli governments have long ruled this out, especially in areas they say must remain under Israeli control for security reasons.
Palestinians refer to all Jewish communities on disputed land as "settlements," irrespective of whether they comprise a handful of caravans on a hilltop, or large, established towns dating back decades.