Analysis |

It Took One Press Conference to Expose All of Netanyahu's Asylum Seeker Fables

After years of populist statements, Israel's premier was forced to admit the best solution is the one he's been fighting all along. But how will deportation supporters be convinced now, after all the lies they were told have been refuted?

Noa Landau
Noa Landau
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to the press in his Jerusalem office on April 2, 2018
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to the press in his Jerusalem office on April 2, 2018Credit: \ RONEN ZVULUN/ REUTERS
Noa Landau
Noa Landau

>> BREAKING (Apr 3, 12:42 PM) Netanyahu Nixes Deal With UN on African Asylum Seekers Following Right-wing Pushback

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After years of populist declarations and systematic incitement against a small group without residency status, Netanyahu was forced to admit that the best solution is in fact the one he fought against the entire time: recognizing the refugees in principle, international cooperation, absorbing those who remain as residents, dispersing them throughout the country and creating a plan to rehabilitate south Tel Aviv. But to reach this reasonable point, Israel was forced to pass through embarrassing realms with threats of unlimited jail time and forced deportation until the world came forward to save us from ourselves.

Netanyahu, as he explicitly admitted, did not reach this conclusion of his own free will. The public pressure in Israel, the Jewish and international communities alongside the legal system, painted him in to a corner. The straw that broke his back was the collapse of the agreement with Rwanda, the third country, which also gave in to international norms after its identity was revealed and a protest broke out. This was an important bright spot, and a considerable lesson, for all those promoting other liberal struggles in Israel.

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But even if this was forced upon him, Netanyahu is right about one main thing: the agreement sponsored by the UNHCR is indeed the best agreement, far more so than any other put up for discussion, for all the parties involved. If it is eventually enacted as (was) planned, 16,000 people will leave Israel to lead a dignified life, versus a lot less in previous deals (14,000 in the deal with the African states, according to Netanyahu,) and those remaining, a group smaller than any other work immigrant group in Israel, can focus on rehabilitation, instead of spiraling down to crime and unemployment. Cancelling the deal under the pressure of right-wing ministers means keeping all the asylum seekers in Israel. It's as simple as that. There is no other solution.

But Netanyahu's slogan method backfired when he tried to do the right thing. How else are the supporters of the deportation plan going to be convinced now, after all the lies they've been told were refuted? Netanyahu is like the boy who cried wolf, only in this story the people are now expected to embrace the fictional wolf into their midst. All of the fables told to Israelis by Netanyahu's government were exposed in one hurried press conference: It was impossible to forcibly deport all of the asylum seekers, the agreement with the third countries would have left a group requiring assimilation anyway ("and Israel will resolve the status of protected populations, most of which would have remained in Israel to begin with" – quoted from the Prime Minister's statement,) there's nothing preventing the dispersal of the population around the country in a controlled manner, and of course no one prevented this government from rehabilitating southern Tel Aviv long before this current agreement.

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On the UN side, the agreement is worthy, but holds no great pride. The western countries basically gave in to Israel's threats and volunteered on their part to solve the problem for it, although many of them struggle under the burden of immigration - especially in relation to their size. When the Interior Minister Arye Dery boasts of this being a special settlement with the UN, he is virtually admitting that Israel's policy was so bad in relation to western democracies, that it was impossible not to intervene and save these refugees.

It remains now to be seen if the government transcends itself and approves the deal, and even then, the big question still remains: will the agreement truly be executed in full? after Germany and Italy firmly denied Netanyahu's claims that they were allegedly absorbing some of the refugees, his bureau said they were meant to be "examples of western states," and that the agreement between Israel and UNHCR does not involve specific understandings with the countries. The UNHCR also confirmed there are no accords with any particular states, and that the intention was to find solutions over the next five years, using existing international plans, among other things.

It is important to note that Israel and UNHCR have yet to publish the full agreement reached between them. Even after the copious criticism laid over the lack of transparency in the agreements with the African nations – the accord with the UN is also still not fully exposed to the public.

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