In Abrupt Reversal, Netanyahu Cancels Deal To Resettle African Migrants In Israel

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Hours after Israel announced the planned resettlement of 16,250 African migrants to Canada, Italy and Germany – which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said was a “good agreement” which “protects the interests of the state of Israel” – Netanyahu reversed course – “pausing” the deal struck with the U.N., and then canceling it.

The U.N. deal would have seen Israel absorb the other half of the country’s roughly 35,000 African migrants.

In a Monday tweet, Netanyahu said he will review the agreement when he meets with the Minister of the Interior on Tuesday morning.

Most of the refugees came from Eritrea and Sudan – beginning their migration in 2005 after neighboring Egypt violently put down a refugee demonstration and “word spread of safety and job opportunities in Israel,” reports AP.

While Israel’s border wall, completed in 2012, stopped the influx, the country has been divided on what to do about refugees who made it before its erection – with some Israelis arguing that Israel has a special responsibility to take in those in need. “Groups of Israeli doctors, academics, poets, Holocaust survivors, rabbis and pilots had also objected to the planned expulsion,” notes AP, while others, such as Netanyahu, believe the migrants threaten Israel’s “interests.”

Tens of thousands crossed the porous desert border before Israel completed a barrier in 2012 that stopped the influx. But Israel has struggled with what to do with those already in the country, alternating between plans to deport them and offering them menial jobs in hotels and local municipalities.

Thousands of the migrants concentrated in poor neighborhoods in south Tel Aviv, an area that has become known as “Little Africa.” Their presence has sparked tensions with working-class Jewish residents, who have complained of rising crime and pressed the government to take action. –AP

Prior to Monday’s announced UN resettlement deal (which as of Tuesday has been canceled), Israel threatened migrants with prison – placing them in a new-shuttered desert detention camp and offering them money and a one-way ticket back to Africa. When that failed, Israel announced plans to send them all to an unnamed African country believed to either be Uganda or Rwanda, on April 1.

African migrants demonstrate in Tel Aviv against the Israeli government’s policy to forcibly deport African refugees and asylum seekers to Rwanda and Uganda

The plan was scrapped, according to Netanyahu, when the planned “third country” which he did not identify, could not handle the influx.

“From the moment in the past few weeks that it became clear that the third country as an option doesn’t exist, we basically entered a trap where all of them would remain,” he said – describing Monday’s compromise with Canada, Italy and Germany as the best available option.

The U.N. refugee agency said it signed a framework of common understanding “to promote solutions for thousands of Eritreans and Sudanese living in Israel.” The UNHCR said it will work to relocate about 16,000 Sudanese and Eritrean nationals and that others will receive “suitable legal status in Israel.” –AP

A debate raged on Twitter following both the announced resettlement and Netanyahu’s rescinding of the deal he signed just hours before.  

By Tuesday afternoon, Netanyahu unceremoniously and unilaterally canceled the agreement, leaving about 39,000 migrants feeling deflated, along with international authorities and many Israelis.

According to Amnon Abramovitch, a political analyst with more than 20 years of Netanyahu-watching under his belt, the prime minister’s misrepresentations are catching up with him. “It has all been a collection of bluffs,” he said. “Netanyahu did not negotiate in good faith with the U.N. He never had an agreement with Rwanda. He’s lied all over the place.”

In part, Netanyahu created his own problems by repeatedly assuring his base he’d deport all the migrants, whom he calls “illegal infiltrators.” As early as 2012, he promised his followers he’d find a way around any strictures. “International law makes deportation very difficult,” he said, but “we can deport them, and we will.”

“Just as we solved other problems,” he said, “we will solve this problem methodically and responsibly, in accordance with international agreements.”

“My conclusion?” Abramovitch said. “He wants early elections.”