Editorial

Netanyahu Should Return to the Migrants' Deal With the UN

Israel is not only capable but obliged to contribute to the international effort to deal with the global refugee crisis, as most wealthy, properly-run countries, in whose company Netanyahu boastfully places Israel, are doing

Filippo Grandi UN High Commissioner for Refugees speaks during a press conference in Beirut, Lebanon, Friday, March 9, 2018
Hussein Malla/AP

The third states, to which Israel was planning to forcibly deport asylum seekers, refused to take them in on Israel’s terms, and as a result the deportation plan fell apart, the state told the High Court of Justice on Tuesday.

This means Israel has no option to deport asylum seekers by force.

In response, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu quickly announced that he and Interior Minister Arye Dery have agreed “to prepare immediately to reopen the prison facilities for infiltrators, to advance legislature bypassing the High Court to enable their operation, and to promote other means to solve the problem.”

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Before Netanyahu and his cabinet choose a path that circumvents justice, morality and economic common sense as well as sabotages democracy – in the form of a law enabling the Knesset to evade the court’s ruling and keep the asylum seekers in prison indefinitely – it’s important to remind them that Israel has a choice. Netanyahu and Dery themselves have signed it: the agreement Israel recently signed with the UN’s refugee agency, which Netanyahu broke, shamefully, in response to heavy pressure from his coalition partners and castigation from the right.

Netanyahu must climb down from his high demagogic horse and reconsider upholding the agreement. The deal was the result of a joint effort on the part of Israel and the refugee agency. It offers international protection to refugees from Israel who had fled from war or persecution. It also takes into consideration issues that trouble the residents of south Tel Aviv.

Some 39,000 Eritrean and Sudanese nationals are currently in Israel. Under the agreement with the UN, Western countries will take in, via UN brokerage, 16,250 of them in several stages, while Israel would take in as many. It was also agreed that Israel and the UN agency make plans to disperse the asylum seekers countrywide and give them professional training to work in solar energy, farming and irrigation. At the same time, Netanyahu and Dery said they would set up an administration to rehabilitate Tel Aviv’s southern neighborhoods.

It was and still is a good deal, and Netanyahu knows it. The number of refugees Israel agreed to take in is small; the Africans who came here are about half a percent of Israel’s population. Countries approximately the same size as Israel, like Sweden, Finland, Norway and others, have taken in far higher rates of refugees.

Israel is not only capable but obliged to contribute to the international effort to deal with the global refugee crisis, as most wealthy, properly-run countries, in whose company Netanyahu boastfully places Israel, are doing. He must adopt the agreement again and convince the public that it is indeed a good deal.

The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.