April 3 (UPI) — Hours after signing a deal with the United Nations to resettle African asylum seekers, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced Tuesday he’d cancel the agreement.
The deal, which Netanyahu announced on Monday, would have stopped the forced deportation of 16,000 African migrants from Israel to African countries and would’ve instead sent them to Western countries. Another 16,000 migrants would’ve been offered the opportunity to live in Israel for five more years.
At the start of a meeting with residents in South Tel Aviv, a neighborhood where most of the African migrants are concentrated, Netanyahu said he was attentive “first to the people of South Tel Aviv.”
“I listened closely to many comments about the agreement,” Netanyahu said. “After reevaluating the advantages and disadvantages [of the deal], I decided to cancel the deal.”
“Despite the growing legal and international limitation, we will continue to act work with determination to exhaust all possibilities at our disposal to remove the infiltrators.”
Before the Israel-U.N. deal was brokered, the Israeli government originally planned to give about 38,000 migrants the option of indefinite imprisonment in Israel, or $3,500 and a plane ticket to their home countries — or to Rwanda or Uganda.
Israel’s political left, which was been rallying behind the issue of migrant resettlement for months, saw the now-canceled deal as a victory for activist groups. Many Orthodox rabbis also argued that Israel’s treatment of the migrants compromised Israel’s moral and religious integrity.
“It’s remarkable that this victory happened over Passover-the holiday of liberation,” Daniel Sokatch, the CEO of the New Israel Fund, said after Netanyahu announced the deal. “Today, we have shown that our power as a civil society-the power of each of us standing up for what is right, and joining together to press for change-is stronger than the power of the cruel and fearful few.”
Netanyahu’s coalition has joined the prime minister in calling the migrants “infiltrators.” The prime minister’s cancelation announcement came roughly three hours after statements of pressure from Israel’s political right.
“Cancelling the deal with the UN on the infiltrators was the right decision,” Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely said. “The Israeli government will find a way to reach the desirable decision – the removal of infiltrators from Israel.”
Naftali Bennett, the minister of education and diaspora affairs, said the “authenticity of the Israeli government” was on the line.
“In signing this agreement, we deliver a dangerous message to the whole world: The person who successfully infiltrates Israel wins the reward of residency here or in a Western state,” Bennett said.
Sokatch said Netanyahu’s cancelation was simply to score “cheap political points” with his coalition.
“It is pathetic, shameful, and a stain on Israel in the global arena that the Prime Minister would blame Israel’s human-rights defenders for his ineptitude and his immoral policies,” he said.