Photo Credit: Hadas Parush/Flash90
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Interior Affairs Minister Aryeh Deri, April 2, 2018.

We have no idea what was happening to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Monday. He made earth-shattering announcements about a solution to the thousands of illegal migrants who have been slated for an expulsion this spring, then took it back when it became apparent no one else, either in his government or any other government he thought he had been dealing with was on the same page with him, then he started throwing blame around.

When political historians rush to write the annals of Bibi’s career, they will no doubt mark this one as a low point.


Around 5 PM Monday, the PM’s office released a statement headlined: “Israel Reaches Unprecedented Common Understanding with UNHCR.”

It said “Israel has reached an unprecedented common understanding with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees for the departure of immigrants from Israel. […]  UNHCR will work to facilitate the departure of these populations to Western countries, and the State of Israel will regulate the status of some of the populations that will remain.”

At a special press conference, Netanyahu named Germany, Italy and Canada as the Western countries willing to take in the migrants expelled by Israel.

The press release specified that “as part of the common understanding, UNHCR will work, through arrangements with various Western countries, for the departure of at least 16,250 migrants, while Israel will regulate the status of protected populations, most of which would have remained in Israel anyway. […] The framework is divided into 3 stages and is spread over 5 years, at the end of which the reality of life in south Tel Aviv and the neighborhoods will significantly improve.”

Finally, the press release intimated that “the Prime Minister and the Interior Minister (Aryeh Deri, Shas) worked to maintain the previous framework, but due to legal constraints and political difficulties on the part of the third countries, it was necessary to arrive at new and improved understandings that would ensure the continued departure of thousands of migrants from Israel for a comprehensive resolution.”

So, quick math: there are an estimated 35,000 illegal migrants currently in Israel, as well as some 10,000 children of migrants who were born in Israel. 16,000 are being deported to Western countries, that leaves 20,000 adults, give or take, plus their children. Not the best deal, but Israel’s agriculture and construction industries could easily offer them legal jobs – problem solved, if not immediately then eventually.

Netanyahu posted on Facebook Monday night that the third African country—now we know it’s Rwanda, and Uganda had reneged earlier—had pulled out of the deal whereby Israel would have paid them for each migrant they absorbed. But with the new deal with UNHCR, Netanyahu promised: “We will remove them from south Tel Aviv, we will bring them to moshavim, kibbutzim, to the strong communities, so the burden will not fall on the neighborhoods in distress. The money we will save [on paying the African countries that pulled out of the deal]—and there’s a lot of it—we will invest in rehabilitating southern Tel Aviv.

Netanyahu’s coalition partner Habayit Hayehudi as well as his own rightwing flank inside Likud were very unhappy, to say the least, with the results as well as the process of reshuffling and altering policy without consulting them. Naftali Bennett was livid, and tweeted: “By signing this agreement, we are sending a dangerous message to the entire world: anyone who succeeds in infiltrating into Israel illegally receives a residency award here or in a Western country.”

Bennett also stated: “The granting of legal status to 16,000 infiltrators in Israel will turn Israel into a paradise for infiltrators and constitutes a total surrender to the false campaign that has been disseminated in the media in recent months.”

And also, referring to Netanyahu’s promises: “The discourse on dispersing infiltrators into kibbutzim and moshavim is a sham. Once illegal immigrants are granted residency status in Israel, they will be entitled to stay wherever they wish. They will petition the High Court of Justice in the name of freedom of movement and will win. We mustn’t sell delusions, but create real solutions.”

Apropos the High Court, it is obvious that once the legalized infiltrators settle in, they’ll demand family reunification—and the high court will back them, effectively tripling or quadrupling their numbers.

But then Germany and Italy announced that, contrary to the Prime Minister’s announcement, they never received a request from the UNHCR or from the Israeli government to absorb the migrants. At which point the Prime Minister’s Office explained that Netanyahu had mentioned the names of these two countries only as examples, and that the UN would be conducting negotiations with Western countries directly.

That was two deals that collapsed on Netanyahu in one evening. So he did the only thing he could: he blamed others.

Late Monday night, the PM posted on Facebook: “Dear friends, I am attentive to you as always. First, I ask you to understand the sequence of events:

“In the past two years I have been working with Rwanda so that it would serve as a ‘third country’ that absorbs infiltrators expelled without their consent. This is the only legal way for us to remove infiltrators without their consent, after the rest of our moves have been legally disqualified.

“Rwanda agreed to this and began the deportation operation.

“In recent weeks, with tremendous pressure on Rwanda by the New Israel Fund and elements in the European Union, Rwanda withdrew from the agreement and refused to accept infiltrators who would be forcibly removed from Israel.

“Under these circumstances, I decided to seek a new agreement that would still allow the continued removal of the infiltrators.

“In the meantime, I am suspending the implementation of the agreement, and after I meet with representatives [of south Tel Aviv residents], I will submit the agreement to a reexamination.”

Some in Israel’s media suggested on Tuesday that the interior minister was leading the PM astray. But it’s what coalition partners do all the time, and it’s the job of the prime minister to figure out those traps in advance. The problem is not that Netanyahu was facing an impossible blunder in which an unusual number of strings were being pulled in every direction.

The problem was that it was happening in public, over a few very embarrassing hours during which the PM appeared weak and confused. #FutureHistorians.


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