Deal with UN to legalize infiltrators - cancelled

Following backlash, PM announces cancellation of deal with UN refugee agency to legalize status of 16,000 African infiltrators.

David Rosenberg , | updated: 1:18 PM

Netanyahu addresses Knesset plenum
Netanyahu addresses Knesset plenum
Flash 90

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Tuesday announced the cancellation of a deal between Israel and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, less than 24-hours after the plan was first publicized Monday afternoon.

Under the deal reached between the UNHCR and the Prime Minister’s office, the UNHCR agreed to “work to facilitate the departure” of 16,250 infiltrators to Western countries, in exchange for Israel granting legal status to 16,250 infiltrators who would remain. The plan would be implemented over the next five years, and would not address the status of 5,000 additional infiltrators living in Israel.

Netanyahu’s announcement Monday, which hailed the agreement as a victory for Israel and the rule of law, prompted a major backlash from coalition partners and activists calling for the removal of infiltrators from south Tel Aviv, where a majority of the nearly 40,000 infiltrators reside.

After meeting with opponents of the plan on Tuesday, Netanyahu declared that the plan negotiated with the UNHCR would not be implemented.

"After having heard numerous comments on the agreement, I have examined the pros and cons and have decided to cancel the agreement," Netanyahu said in a statement Tuesday afternoon.

Prior to the completion of Israel’s border fence along the Egyptian frontier in 2013, some 60,000 infiltrators from Eritrea, Sudan, and Somalia illegally entered Israel.

While some 20,000 have left the country since, including as part of a government program offering $3,500 to those voluntarily self-deporting, close to 40,000 remain, not including thousands of children born in Israel.

Last month, the Supreme Court froze a plan to deport thousands of illegal immigrants just weeks before the program is slated to begin.

While the Knesset backed the plan last December, which would include the deportation of thousands of infiltrators to third countries, widely reported to be Uganda and Rwanda, Israeli opponents of the plan pressured the two countries to back out of the agreement, leading Rwanda to deny its involvement in the plan.

By Monday night, however, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu backtracked on the proposed UN deal, suspending the plan in order to consult with Interior Minister Aryeh Deri (Shas) and pro-deportation activists from south Tel Aviv, where many of the infiltrators reside.

Bennett, who previously slammed the deal, welcomed the suspension, but said Monday night that the prime minister did not go far enough.

"This is a correct decision by the prime minister, and I congratulate him on this, as we have said, this is a bad agreement that constitutes a capitulation to the false campaign that was disseminated in the media and would turn Israel into a paradise for infiltrators."

"The delay is not enough, we have to move to a new plan that will move the illegal infiltrators out of Israel," Bennett said.