Until Monday afternoon, Israel said the only solution for the 37,000 African migrants living in its borders was their deportation to “third countries”.
Then, at a hastily called press conference, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that the agreements with Rwanda and Uganda had fallen through.
Employing his trademark eloquence, he said Israel now had a deal with the United Nations refugee agency.
Under the UNHCR resettlement programme, 16,250 migrants would receive official refugee status in Western countries, while Israel would grant five-year residency rights to the remaining 21,000.
Just seven hours later, Mr Netanyahu announced he was suspending the agreement, pending future consultations.
By Tuesday morning, the consultations were apparently unnecessary: the agreement was null and void, he said.
It had been hailed by refugees’s rights campaigners as a fair and humane solution to the plight of the Eritrean and Sudanese refugees who have been living in Israel, many for over a decade, without legal status.
But it unleashed a wave of anger from Mr Netanyahu’s right-wing base. After having been promised deportations, they were unprepared to settle with any compromise.
The embattled prime minister — anxious to keep his supporters happy as he awaits a decision by the attorney general on whether to indict him on corruption charges — was defeated.
Apart from the Interior Minster Arye Deri, who helped negotiate the UNHCR deal, no senior minister was prepared to support the prime minister.
However, there will now be no deportations at all. There is nowhere to send the refugees to.
Rwanda and Uganda were happy to accept Israel’s money in return for accepting the deportees until the “third country” deal was made public and they withdrew. The refugees now have neither a solution nor legal status.
The coalition’s ministers know that and no one should be surprised if this government, or the next one, ultimately accepts the agreement with UNHCR.
But this is not about the refugees: it is about politics and the coalition’s various right-wing constituencies do not want to hear about any compromises.
Mr Netanyahu reportedly buckled after Monday’s press conference, when his aides presented examples of angry Facebook posts written by his erstwhile supporters accusing him of betrayal.
A prime minister under threat of indictment has no power to stand up to his ministers or the masses on Facebook.