Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday night he is suspending the implementation of a deal with the United Nations announced only hours earlier that would see Israel deport asylum seekers to Western countries rather than Africa – despite the fact that the deal has already been signed.
Against a backlash from politicians and others against the plan after it was unveiled at a news conference, Netanyahu took to Facebook late in the evening, writing: “In the interim, I am suspending implementation of the agreement, and after I meet with the representatives, I will submit the agreement for reexamination,” in a reference to representatives of south Tel Aviv neighborhoods.
Explaining that an initial plan to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda in Africa had fallen apart, he said he then sought to resolve the matter through an agreement with the UN refugee agency. He placed blame for Rwanda’s reconsideration of the agreement to accept asylum seekers from Israel on the New Israel Fund and European Union officials.
“Nevertheless I am attentive to you, and first and foremost to the residents of south Tel Aviv. Therefore I have decided to meet with representatives of the residents tomorrow [Tuesday] morning together with Interior Minster Arye Dery. In the interim, I am suspending implementation of the agreement, and after I meet with the representatives, I will submit the agreement for reexamination.”
The EU’s branch in Israel responded to the news, writing on Twitter: “Guess it’s just one of those days. At 20:57 you congratulate #Israel & @refugees on their agreement, at 21:46 you like @IsraelMFA announcement on the deal, at 22:50 the PM suspends it and blames, among others, #EU (where #UNHCR hoped to resettle significant number of refugees).”
Earlier Monday, Netanyahu said that Canada, Germany and Italy are among the countries that will take in asylum seekers after Israel signed a deal with the UN refugee agency canceling its mass deportation plan.
Speaking at a news conference, Netanyahu said the plan to deport asylum seekers to “a third country” was scrapped when “it became clear that the third country did not meet the [required] conditions,” adding that this country “did not withstand the pressure.”
The German embassy in Israel told Haaretz hours later, however, that Germany had not received any requestfrom the UN refugee agency or from the Israeli government to absorb African asylum seekers deported by Israel. The Italian Foreign ministry, in a statement to the Italian newspaper La Republica, denied any agreement with Israel regarding asylum seekers as well.
After the deal was unveiled, Netanyahu received widespread criticism from within his party, Likud, and other lawmakers in the ruling coalition for failing to share developments regarding the agreement with them. The collapse of the original plan — to send the asylum seekers to Rwanda — was only discussed with a small group of government staffers and Interior Minister Arye Dery. Following the prime minister’s announcement of the signing of the deal, some lawmakers called for a renegotiation.