PM seeks to reopen Holot, plans new deportation bill bypassing High Court
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PM seeks to reopen Holot, plans new deportation bill bypassing High Court

Coalition ally Kahlon said to support legislation that would circumvent judicial rulings blocking expulsion of migrants

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon at a special cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on January 11, 2018. (Alex Kolomoisky/POOL/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon at a special cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on January 11, 2018. (Alex Kolomoisky/POOL/Flash90)

With the short-lived agreement with the UN on resettling African asylum seekers firmly in his rear-view mirror, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is seeking new measures to handle the issue of migrants.

Hadashot news reported Tuesday night that Netanyahu is now weighing a move to reopen the Holot migrant detention facility in the Negev, which had been shuttered in early March in anticipation of planned deportations.

According to Haaretz, the prime minister also wants to examine new potential host countries to which Israel could forcibly deport the migrants, after he admitted on Monday that the original target country, Rwanda, had rejected the plan.

He is also planning legislation to bypass the High Court of Justice’s recent ruling blocking deportations. Hadashot reported Monday that demands by the court had scuttled Israel’s deal with Rwanda.

Netanyahu is reportedly applying pressure on his coalition partners, namely Kulanu leader Moshe Kahlon, to support the plan. Kahlon has in the past opposed any Knesset bills that clash with court rulings.

However, sources close to Kahlon said Tuesday evening he would back such legislation on the matter of migrants. “If Netanyahu wishes it, we can pass the bill tomorrow,” they said.

The Netanyahu deal with the UN — which would have seen some 16,250 African migrants in Israel resettled in “developed” Western countries, while a similar number would be given temporary residency — was cancelled by the prime minister due to heavy domestic criticism just a few hours after he proudly announced it.

The earlier deportation policy, which offered each migrant $3,500 and a plane ticket, had been condemned by Israeli activists and the UN as chaotic, poorly executed, and unsafe. Asylum seekers previously deported to Uganda and Rwanda have told The Times of Israel they faced serious danger and even imprisonment after arriving in Africa without proper documents.

Jewish Home party leader Naftali Bennett on Tuesday night welcomed the new legislative drive, saying his party would support a clause to prevent the High Court from striking down a new bill. “This will create incentive for infiltrators to leave Israel,” he said.

Netanyahu also declared Tuesday that he is seeking to establish a parliamentary commission of inquiry into the activities of the New Israel Fund, which he blamed for the failure of Israel’s deportation plans.

African asylum seekers and Israeli activists protest outside the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, against their deportation, on April 3, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Netanyahu claimed the NIF put pressure on Rwanda to reject Jerusalem’s proposed resettlement of African migrants in the country, forcing him to seek other solutions.

The premier provided no proof of the left-wing NGO’s involvement in Rwanda’s alleged scrapping of its agreement with Israel, which led to a new short-lived agreement with the UN’s refugee agency.

The New Israel Fund firmly denied the allegation. Its CEO Daniel Sokatch said in a statement: “The New Israel Fund did not pressure the Rwandan government to refuse to participate in Netanyahu’s cruel mass deportation plan. We did support massive numbers of Israelis standing up for what is right and demanding action from their own government.”

Rwanda’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Olivier Nduhungirehe told Israel’s Kan public broadcaster Monday that “there was never a deal with Israel, neither in writing, nor verbally.”

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees on Tuesday expressed “disappointment” at Netanyahu’s decision to scrap the resettlement agreement, and urged him to “reconsider” it.

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