It’s been over two months since Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu touted a new plan for Israel’s migrants only to cancel it less than 24 hours later.
Since then, not much has been heard about the path forward.
Behind the scenes, however, a group of high profile businessman are working to advance a plan they proposed to Netanyahu last month.
“Top government officials are listening to us,” Yossi Kucik, chairman of the Zur Shamir group and a former director-general of the Prime Minister’s Office, told The Jerusalem Post last week during a joint interview in Tel Aviv with Yarom Ariav, former Finance Ministry director-general and executive chairman of Lavi Capital Ltd.
The proposal, which was signed by 64 prominent businessmen and leading industry heads, is a one-time economic plan which seeks to decentralize the migrants from south Tel Aviv, and help provide them with jobs and housing in various locations across Israel where there are job vacancies.
In addition, they seek to rehabilitate run-down neighborhoods of south Tel Aviv, which absorbed the vast majority of African asylum seekers.
Signatories include Ilan Cohen, entrepreneur and former director general of the Prime Minister’s Office; owner and CEO at Terra and former CEO of the Tourism Ministry Eli Gonen; Shraga Brosh, president of the Manufacturers Association; as well as Israel Prize for Industry laureates Yehudit and Yehuda Bronicki.
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“The situation at the moment is at a dead-end,” said Ariav.
“The plan to deport the migrants to a third country has failed,” he asserted, referring to Israeli efforts to strike agreements for Rwanda and Uganda to absorb migrants from Israel.
He said that Netanyahu is aware that some 16,000 will have to remain in Israel, which is why he announced the agreement with the United Nation High Commission on Refugees.
The deal reached between the Prime Minister’s Office and the UNHCR stipulated that Israel could deport some 16,000 migrants to Western countries, while granting a “suitable” legal status to some 16,000 others.
“We are talking about a problem that is limited,” he stressed, noting that no new asylum seekers have tried to enter Israel since the government built a fence along the border with Sinai in 2013.
According to the business plan’s timetable, asylum seekers would be dispersed from south Tel Aviv and integrated into various cities and communities throughout the country within three years, and south Tel Aviv neighborhoods will undergo a rehabilitation process within 5 years.The plan is consistent with the outline presented by the prime minister and agreed upon by the UNHCR – which the businessmen are calling on Netanyahu to reinstate – but it can also be adopted as part of an alternative framework.
The two main elements upon which the plan rests are employment and housing.
The plan seeks to expand employment opportunities while removing obstacles to the employment of migrants in industries that are suffering from a shortage of manpower.
It also seeks to remove barriers faced by migrants who wish to rent apartments in towns across the country.
“There are 25,000 positions that are empty,” Ariav told the Post, referring to the fields of agriculture, hospitality, the restaurant business and construction.
Israel, he said, brings foreign workers to fill these positions and takes advantage of them.
“So instead of bringing them, we can distribute the migrants in the cities,” he said.
“It has to be done in an organized way,” he noted, saying the migrants would receive training for the relevant industries.
The plan also specifies that the number of migrants absorbed by each community will be limited to 1% of their population.
The municipalities that absorb them will receive incentives, as will the employers, who would be exempt from employer’s tax, and the migrants would also receive benefits and longterm work visas.
The businessmen also seek to establish a fund to help the migrants with apartment rentals.
Lastly, according to the plan, south Tel Aviv will undergo a rehabilitation process to improve the infrastructure and to solve the problems of prostitution and drugs in the area.
“We are business people and we telling the government that this is a good plan,” said Kucik.
The fact that Netanyahu came out with the UN agreement in a press conference, he said, shows that he knows it's a good plan. “He did a U-turn because of pressures but we know he thinks it's a good plan and talks are still ongoing,” he remarked.
The businessmen want to dispel the belief that one must choose between the good of south Tel Aviv or the good of the migrants.
This plan, Kucik says, is a "win-win-win" for everyone – the Israeli economy, the residents of Tel Aviv and the migrants.
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