Half a deal is better than no deal

The deal Israel hammered out with the UN was a good deal, even if it was only half a deal. No deal is perfect.

A boy takes part in a protest against the Israeli government's plan to deport African migrants, in Tel Aviv, Israel March 24, 2018. (photo credit: REUTERS/CORINNA KERN)
A boy takes part in a protest against the Israeli government's plan to deport African migrants, in Tel Aviv, Israel March 24, 2018.
(photo credit: REUTERS/CORINNA KERN)
Israel and the United Nations developed a plan to help accommodate the needs of half of the illegals within Israel’s borders. Of the 34,000 people who fled for their lives, entering illegally and seeking refuge in Israel, 16,250 would be relocated. Not a bad arrangement when viewed dispassionately. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu scrapped the proposal, but the deal is not dead.
Obviously, the situation is more complicated when one deals with humans, not statistics, but the mere fact that a deal emerged and was signed with the assistance of the UN should itself be cause for celebration.
Every international deal has downsides. Every party has complaints. And in this deal there were so many parties. Israel, the United Nations, Italy, Uganda, Canada, Germany, Somalia, Yemen. And the Likud. Just to name a few.
Here is where the reality of the half-solution is so important.
Shouts calling for the expulsion of 100% of the illegal immigrant population in Israel, especially those shouts emanating from the electoral base that stabilizes the prime minister, rang loudly in his ears. The sentiment is understandable. But the problem, as with so much in politics and international affairs, lies in the application.
Bold rhetoric makes for catchy and enticing political jingles and slogans, but beyond the election, seldom are things so simple.
African immigrants entered Israel illegally via the Egyptian border. Most came from Eritrea and Sudan. First, they were smuggled over their border into Egypt. Then they traversed all of Egypt, then crossed the Egyptian border and then entered Israel. Some were shot in the back by Egyptians as they rushed Israel’s border.
Imagine what it means for a Muslim to flee an Islamic country because life there is untenable, to traverse another Islamic country where you are not wanted, to find refuge in a Jewish state. It’s mind boggling.
But now Israel has a problem. The word is that Jewish state is a place they welcome you and where there is a better future. But Israel does not want to be a magnet for these immigrants, and Eritrea and Sudan have closed their gates to those who ran away. There is no opening those doors. No pressure from the UN, no recommendations from other countries, will persuade Eritrea or Sudan.
The illegals have no place to turn. They no longer have homes to which they can return. And Israel cannot, will not, deport someone without a destination. That is why this deal was so important. It created a solution for a little less than half of the immigrants in question.
And then it all fell apart.
In a public statement, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) expressed its obvious disappointment. The statement read: “It is with disappointment that UNHCR notes today’s cancellation by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of the Israel-UNHRC Agreement of April 2 on solutions for Eritreans and Sudanese currently in Israel. The Agreement was the result of discussions over an extended period of time, and reflected shared effort to find a solution that gave international protection to people arriving in Israel....”
Deporting people without destination has a nasty historical ring for the Jewish people and the Jewish state. In the summer of 1939 Germany expelled all Jewish Polish nationals, i.e., all Jews of Polish descent. But Poland absolutely refused to accept them. Thousands of Jews were expelled and sent to no man’s land between the two countries. There they stayed, many of them dying of starvation and exposure. It was a tragedy, foreshadowing the horrors to come.
At this stage in Israel’s history no government will expel anyone without a destination. No airline will allow them to board a plane and no border will permit them entry. So a solution where a country is paid by Israel and the deportees are also paid by Israel makes for a much more effective policy.
Crises abound in our world. People will continue to risk their lives and flee their homes and homelands. Some may be running from oppression, some may be seeking economic stability – all seek a better future.
Israel has gained a reputation in Muslim lands as a country of refuge where Muslims can find safety and prosperity. But what obligation does Israel have to someone who stealthily sneaks in?
The State of Israel cannot open its doors to anyone who wants to enter and still retain its Jewish nature. But embedded in the tradition of Israel is a Jewish responsibility to help those in need. In the 1970s when Cambodian boat people were adrift at sea and no one would accept them, Israel stepped forward and took them in.
That humanitarian act became an important national symbol. When the SS St. Louis left Germany making its way across the Atlantic, carrying Jews escaping Nazi Germany, no country would let them in. They returned to the German port and were deported to their deaths in Nazi camps.
The deal Israel hammered out with the UN was a good deal, even if it was only half a deal. No deal is perfect.
The author is a political commentator. He hosts the TV show Thinking Out Loud on JBS TV. Follow him on Twitter @MicahHalpern.