Wed, Apr 04, 2018 - Page 1 News List

Netanyahu cancels UN deal to resettle African migrants

WISHY-WASHY:The deal called for resettling about half of the 35,000 African migrants in Western countries, while allowing the rest to remain in Israel


African migrants and Israelis demonstrate in Tel Aviv, Israel, yesterday against the Israeli government’s policy to deport African refugees and asylum seekers.

Photo: AFP

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu yesterday canceled an agreement with the UN to resettle thousands of African migrants, caving in to pressure from hawks in his coalition who opposed the deal because it would allow many other migrants to remain in the country.

The startling turnaround drew heavy criticism from Netanyahu’s opponents and raised questions about the embattled Israeli leader’s decisionmaking processes.

Netanyahu on Monday proudly announced the deal with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in a nationally televised news conference, saying it would benefit Israel and the migrants.

However, after coalition hard-liners attacked him, he announced late in the evening that he was suspending the arrangement to consult with residents of south Tel Aviv. Veteran residents of the working-class area, where the migrant population is concentrated, had felt slighted by the deal.

After meeting with residents yesterday, Netanyahu said he had weighed the pros and cons, and he “decided to cancel the agreement.”

Nationalist allies who dominate Netanyahu’s coalition had harshly criticized the deal because it would allow thousands of Africans to remain in Israel.

Naftali Bennett, leader of the nationalist Jewish Home party, earlier yesterday tweeted that the deal “is bad for Israel.”

“It’s not enough to suspend it. I call on the prime minister to cancel it completely. Its approval would cause generations of crying and determine a precedent in Israel granting residency for illegal infiltrators,” he said.

Netanyahu announced the deal on Monday after a plan to deport the migrants to an unnamed African country, presumed to be Rwanda, fell through.

Given the lack of choices, Netanyahu said his deal with the UN refugee agency was the best available option.

It called for resettling about half of the 35,000 African migrants in Israel to Western nations, while allowing the rest to remain in Israel. It also called for dispersing the migrant population throughout the country, and investing and rehabilitating Tel Aviv’s impoverished southern neighborhoods.

Dozens of migrants and their Israeli supporters protested the suspension outside Netanyahu’s office in Jerusalem and government offices in Tel Aviv, as he met with the neighborhood representatives.

Some protesters stripped to the waist, draped themselves with chains and taped their mouths shut at a protest in Tel Aviv. Others waved signs that read: “Human lives are not to play with. Yes to the deal.”

Protester Daniella Elyashar called on Netanyahu to “stop this political game.” Another protester, Veronika Cohen, said “yesterday we were in tears of joy and this morning just in tears.”

Labor Party leader Avi Gabbay slammed the sudden turnaround on Army Radio, questioning if defense decisions are also made in the same manner.

“It is sad, troubling and even a little scary that decisions are made that way,” Gabbay said.

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