Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu has suspended a deal with the UN to give residency to thousands of African migrants in exchange for Western nations resettling the same number.
Hours after announcing the deal, he put the plan on hold, saying he would meet with residents of south Tel Aviv, where many of the migrants live.
The arrangement had drawn opposition from within his governing coalition.
It replaced a plan for mass deportations to Africa.
Under the five-year agreement with the UN refugee agency, some 16,250 African migrants who entered the country illegally, many of them seeking asylum, would be resettled in Western nations, which Mr Netanyahu had said included Germany, Italy and Canada.
For each migrant resettled overseas, Israel would give “temporary residence” to a migrant in Israel, Mr Netanyahu told a news conference earlier on Monday.
It replaced a controversial plan to forcibly send male African migrants to third countries in Africa if they did not go voluntarily.
The nations were reported to be Uganda and Rwanda and Israel’s Supreme Court had blocked deportations meant to begin on Sunday.
In a late-night Facebook post announcing the suspension of the UN deal, Mr Netanyahu said that earlier agreement had failed because Rwanda had pulled out.
He said he would rethink the terms of the UN accord after listening to the views of Israelis. Mr Netanyahu had faced criticism from anti-migrant groups in southern Tel Aviv and powerful politicians in his own governing coalition for striking the deal.
Naftali Bennett, head of the Jewish Home party, called the plan a “total surrender to the false campaign in the media” and said the credibility of the government was at stake.
Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked was among ministers saying they did not know anything about the agreement before it was announced. Culture Minister Miri Regev expressed concern about the “identity and social fabric” of Israel if the migrants were allowed to stay, according to the Jerusalem Post.
Where are the migrants from?
Most of the 42,000 African migrants in Israel are from Eritrea – a one-party state whose leaders have been accused of crimes against humanity by a UN inquiry – and war-torn Sudan.
They say they fled danger at home and that it is not safe to return to another African country, but Israel considers the majority of African asylum seekers to be economic migrants.
Most of them entered from Egypt several years ago, before a new fence was built along the desert border. This has ended most illegal crossings.
How controversial is this issue?
The decision in January to offer the migrants a cash lump-sum and a plane ticket to leave Israel voluntarily or otherwise face forced expulsion was controversial in Israel.
Some critics in the country and among the Jewish community abroad – including former ambassadors and Holocaust survivors – said the plan was unethical and a stain on Israel’s international image. The UN refugee agency said it violated local and international laws, and large protests were held in Israel.
Mr Netanyahu said the opposition was “baseless and absurd” and that Israel would resettle “genuine refugees”.
Activists, however, noted that only a handful of Eritreans and Sudanese had been recognised as refugees by Israel since the country took over the processing of applications from the UN in 2009.
A note on terminology: The BBC uses the term migrant to refer to all people on the move who have yet to complete the legal process of claiming asylum. This group includes people fleeing war-torn countries such as Syria, who are likely to be granted refugee status, as well as people who are seeking jobs and better lives, who governments are likely to rule are economic migrants.