Palestinians must stop working in Jewish settlements by next year, a Palestinian cabinet minister said on Tuesday, as part of a campaign to halt their expansion on occupied land Palestinians want for a state.
Economic Minister Hassan Abu Libdeh disclosing further details of a new Palestinian law aimed at severing commercial ties with the settlements, said Palestinians violating the ban could face up to five years in jail and fines of up to $14,000.
"Those who are working in settlements are beefing up settlements, contributing heavily to the lifeline of settlements and therefore they deserve more punishment," Abu Libdeh said.
The penalties were not made public when President Mahmoud Abbas signed a law last month banning trade in goods made by Israelis living in some 100 settlements in the occupied West Bank and prohibiting Palestinian labor in them.
Since the Palestinians began the boycott campaign in January, the number of Palestinian workers in the enclave has dropped from 33,000 to 25,000, Abu Libdeh said.
Palestinians employed by settlements work in construction, agriculture and industry. Abu Libdeh said all must leave their jobs by 2010.
He said the Palestinian Authority would provide incentives to Palestinian firms to hire former settlement workers and that "encouraging responses" have already been received from various companies.
Abu Libdeh said Israel's criticism of the boycott drive was not justified as the Palestinian Authority was not violating existing interim peace agreements.
"We are not conducting any act of incitement against anybody. We are trying to make sure that we, the Palestinians, are not at all part of the lifeline of settlements," he said.
Settlers, Abu Libdeh said, had to be made to understand it was no longer economically viable or profitable for them to continue to live in the West Bank.