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Will SodaStream Return to West Bank After Israel Dumps Last 74 Palestinian Workers?

Fizzy drinks maker SodaStream has raised the prospect of moving work back to the West Bank after the Israeli government refused to extend work permits for its remaining 74 Palestinian workers.

SodaStream, which had promoted the idea of workplace co-existence between Israelis and Palestinians, moved its plant from the Israeli-occupied West Bank to Lehavim, a town in Israel’s south, in late 2014.

It made that move after heavy pressure from the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement, which is opposed to Israel’s policies towards the Palestinians including its occupation of the West Bank.

SodaStream said the BDS campaign had been counter-productive because of the Palestinian jobs lost. Israel contends that the BDS advocates the destruction of the Jewish state.

About 500 Palestinians out of nearly 1,200 workers lost their jobs in the move but SodaStream lobbied to keep on 74 Palestinians, many of them senior people. However, their permits expired at the end of February.

“If the administration does not solve this very quickly and doesn’t allow Palestinians to get to their jobs we will bring the jobs to the Palestinians … and we will not have to ask permission from any minister in the Israeli government,” SodaStream Chief Executive Daniel Birnbaum said.

“If the Israeli government doesn’t want to help then at least don’t get in the way.”

Birnbaum blamed Israeli government bureaucracy for the lack of renewal. He told reporters on Tuesday that he was informed by various ministries it was a matter of quotas.

“I find that difficult to believe,” he said, noting that more than 100,000 Palestinians from the West Bank work in Israel every day. “Half have permits and half come in and work and the authorities turn a blind eye.”

An official in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said: “The policy of the government is to give priority to the employment of Israeli workers.”

Nabil Basharat, 42, a father of seven from Jaba Village, said he has been working for SodaStream for six years and become a department manager. “I used to make $2,000 a month or more and today I have nothing,” he said, lamenting the permit problem.

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