It should have been no surprise that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu canceled a deal that would have seen a major shift in policy on African migrants and refugees.
For a decade Jerusalem has carried out the same endless “crisis management” policy in relation to other major issues. From the Negev to the West Bank, Ethiopians, the Kotel and the Beduin, Netanyahu has been unable to settle on a policy, preferring to hedge his bets and balance numerous interests in the coalition.
In August 2013 the “last” of the Ethiopian Falash Mura arrived in Israel. “Today we bring to an end a journey that spans thousands of years, the conclusion of Operation Wings of a Dove,” Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky said. When the final group of 450 Ethiopians arrived there were speeches and congratulations. Immigration and Absorption Minister Sofa Landver was present as well as other MKs.
Then in 2015 the government decided to revisit the issue because there were more than 9,000 people in Ethiopia who still wanted to immigrate. “They must be brought to Israel and reunited with their families,” MK Avraham Neguise said. In November 2015 the immigration resumed and then was restricted in 2016. Today there is still no final decision on what to do.
In 2013 there was also the “historic” deal to build a pipeline linking the Dead Sea to the Red Sea. Agreed upon in Washington by Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority, the deal came with boastful statements about the future and the past. Then-secretary of state John Kerry praised the project, as did regional cooperation minister Silvan Shalom.
Migrants, activists in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv protest Netanyahu's scrapping of relocation deal, April 3, 2018 (Reuters/Tamara Zieve)
Then in 2015 Israel and Jordan signed another “historic” agreement about the project. But the $900 million project, supposedly supported by the World Bank and which would now include a desalination plant in Aqaba, didn’t seem to actually begin.
In July 2017 Jason Greenblatt came to Jerusalem and signed yet another “breakthrough” deal for the “Red Sea- Dead Sea” project. Then nothing happened. In November 2017 Jordanian Water and Irrigation Minister Hazem al-Naser sent a letter to Israel wondering what was happening. In February Jordan said it would proceed with the plan without Israel
, constructing the infrastructure on its side.
The government also agreed to a “Kotel deal” in 2016 that was supposed to resolve controversy about an egalitarian prayer area. The area would be expanded while the rest of the Kotel would remain under its existing Orthodox status quo.
Then in June 2017 the deal was suspended to avert a coalition crisis and assuage complaints from right-wing Orthodox members of Netanyahu’s government. Then a new compromise was announced. The “Kotel deal” is still up in the air.
IN THE NEGEV Israel sought to resolve land claims among a growing population of Beduin who live in unrecognized communities. In 2011 a plan was crafted that would have forced the Beduin from the unrecognized communities into existing or new planned communities. Protests swept the community and eventually the Bill for Arranging Beduin Settlement in the Negev, usually called the Prawer Plan, was canceled.
In 2017 groups on both sides were still talking about some kind of compromise, but currently almost 100,000 Beduin live in unrecognized houses and some communities such as al-Arakib
have been demolished 120 times, as the residents refuse to move. The same cycle of plans and demolitions has affected the community of Umm al-Hiran, where every year brings stories of a plan to “evacuate and destroy” the community.
There are a myriad of other issues like this, the largest of which is talk of a “two-state” solution. People still reference Netanyahu’s 2009 Bar-Ilan speech about the peace process. But the prime minister indicated in 2015 that it was no longer relevant. Nevertheless, Israel and the Palestinians continue plodding on with “peace” as an ultimate goal.
The reality in Israel is that the current government has become addicted to managing these crises. Although some of them lead to outrage and opposition in the Diaspora, they are neatly calculated to please the voters at home. This makes sense from a standpoint of trying to keep the governing coalition together. But it’s unclear if the waffling and flip-flopping is good for the long term.
It certainly is not good for the people whose lives are left in limbo, whether Beduin, Western Wall worshipers, Ethiopians waiting to come to Israel, African migrants or Jewish residents of the West Bank who might be evacuated under any peace plan.
Netanyahu prefers the short-term political gain of keeping the government in power over any kind of risk that might lead to long-term change. As much as Israel boasts about its technological prowess and innovation, when it comes to government policy and controversial issues, Jerusalem is rarely innovative.
The indecision and going back on various deals also harms Israel’s reputation. Its partners abroad are less likely to trust the government’s claims. It was particularly embarrassing to watch the announcement that 16,000 migrants and refugees would be able to fulfill their dreams of starting new lives in dignity and security, only to have the deal suspended and then canceled. It isn’t even transparent to the public if the deal was fully clear to its signatories.
Leaders of the alleged destinations of the migrants say they weren’t consulted and it appears, yet again, like another Negev, Kotel or Red Sea mirage.