Israel's Netanyahu announces deal with U.N. on African migrants, cancels it hours later

Israeli Prime Minister announces, scraps agreement on African migrants
(Image credit: Menahem Kahana/AFP/Getty Images)

In a nationally televised announcement on Monday afternoon, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he had reached a deal with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to resolve Israel's stalemate over its roughly 35,000 asylum-seekers from Eritrea, Sudan, and other parts of Africa. After he got blowback from hawkish members of his governing coalition, Netanyahu announced on Monday night that he was suspending the agreement, and he canceled it entirely on Tuesday, a head-spinning flip flop that drew condemnation from parties to the agreement and Israeli opposition leaders.

The deal with the UNCHR would have resettled 16,250 African immigrants among Western nations, the rest remaining in Israel with temporary legal status. Netanyahu's previous plan to offer the refugees a choice between a plane ticket to Rwanda or jail in Israel fell apart when Rwanda said it would accept only Africans who left Israel voluntarily. That plan had also prompted widespread criticism in Israel. About 60,000 Africans crossed into Israel between 2005 and 2012, and more than 20,000 of them were either deported or left of their own accord. Nationalists and residents of south Tel Aviv, where many of the immigrants settled, have called for Israel to expel the Africans.

Netanyahu's about-face after receiving criticism from Naftali Bennett, education minister and leader of the far-right Jewish Home party, and other members of his fragile governing coalition called into question the embattled prime minister's decision-making process. "It is sad, troubling, and even a little scary that decisions are made that way," Labor Party leader Avi Gabbay said on Army Radio, asking what would happen if Netanyahu made defense decisions based on tweets from his hawkish allies rather than what's right for Israel.

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