By Altaf Moti
The Gaza Strip, home to 2 million Palestinians is one of the most densely populated and impoverished places on earth. It has been under a brutal Israeli blockade since 2007 when Hamas, the Islamist movement that opposes Israel took over the coastal enclave. The blockade has severely restricted the movement of people and goods and has caused a humanitarian crisis that has worsened with each successive war between Israel and Hamas.
The dire situation in Gaza has raised questions about the future of its population and whether there is any possibility for a peaceful and just resolution of the conflict. While the international community has advocated for a political solution based on the two-state paradigm, some Israeli officials have proposed a radical and controversial alternative: relocating the population of Gaza to Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula which borders Gaza to the south.
The proposal was leaked to the media on October 30, 2023, and was published by the Hebrew language website Sicha Mekomit. The document was dated October 13, 2023, six days after the Hamas attack on Israel that triggered the war in Gaza. The Israeli government confirmed the authenticity of the document but downplayed its significance.
The document presents three possible scenarios for the civilian population of Gaza after the war with Hamas. The first scenario is to maintain the status quo with the civilians in Gaza under the authority of the Palestinian Authority which was ousted by Hamas in 2007. The second scenario is to attempt to establish a local Arab non-Islamist political leadership to govern the population. The third scenario, which is the most extreme and controversial is to relocate the population to Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula.
The document claims that the third scenario would be the best for Israel’s security and would create ideological change and deter future militancy against Israel. The document proposes that Israel would set up tent cities in Egypt, create a humanitarian corridor and then build permanent cities in the northern Sinai to accommodate the refugees for the long term with a security zone to prevent Palestinians from returning to Gaza.
However, the proposal faces many challenges and obstacles, both practical and moral. First of all, Egypt has strongly rejected the idea and said it would not allow any displacement of Palestinians to its territory. Egypt considers Sinai as a sovereign and strategic part of its land and has been fighting against insurgents there for years. Egypt also has a peace treaty with Israel that stipulates the demilitarization of Sinai and the preservation of the status quo.
Secondly, the Palestinians have also denounced the proposal and said it would amount to ethnic cleansing and a new war. The Palestinians have a strong attachment to their land and history and have been resisting Israeli occupation and oppression for decades. They have also suffered from multiple displacements and expulsions in the past such as the Nakba of 1948 when hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were forced from their homes during the creation of Israel.
Thirdly, the international community has also expressed concern and criticism over the proposal and said it would violate international law and human rights. The UN has affirmed the right of return for Palestinian refugees and the right of self-determination for the Palestinian people. The US has also urged Israel to respect the dignity and rights of the Palestinians and to work towards a two-state solution based on the 1967 borders.
Fourthly, the proposal ignores the historical and geopolitical significance of the Sinai Peninsula which has been a contested and strategic area for centuries. Sinai was part of Egypt until 1967, when Israel occupied it during the Six-Day War. In 1979, Egypt and Israel signed a peace treaty that returned Sinai to Egypt in exchange for diplomatic recognition and security guarantees. Since then, Sinai has been a buffer zone between the two countries, and a source of cooperation and tension. Sinai has also been a hotbed of Islamist insurgency, especially after the 2011 uprising that toppled former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.
Fifthly, the proposal overlooks the reaction of other regional and international actors, who have a stake and an interest in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Arab countries especially those that have normalized relations with Israel such as the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco, and Sudan, would face public backlash and criticism for their perceived complicity or silence over the relocation plan. The Muslim countries especially those that have strong ties with Hamas such as Turkey, Qatar, and Iran, would condemn the plan and support the Palestinian resistance. The European countries especially those that have been supportive of the Palestinian cause such as France, Germany and Sweden would denounce the plan and pressure Israel to abide by international law and human rights. The Asian countries, especially those that have economic and strategic interests in the Middle East such as China, Japan, Pakistan and India would express concern and call for dialogue and de-escalation. The African countries especially those that have historical and cultural links with the Palestinians such as South Africa, Algeria and Tunisia would oppose the plan and show solidarity with the Palestinians. The Latin American countries especially those that have experienced colonialism and oppression such as Venezuela, Cuba, and Bolivia would reject the plan and demand justice for the Palestinians.
Sixthly, the proposal neglects the possible alternatives to the relocation plan which could be more realistic and humane. One alternative could be to lift the blockade on Gaza and allow the free movement of people and goods which would alleviate the humanitarian crisis and improve the living conditions of the population. Another alternative could be to resume the peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians based on the internationally recognized parameters of a two-state solution, which would address the core issues of the conflict such as borders, settlements, refugees, Jerusalem, and security. A third alternative could be to promote reconciliation and unity among the Palestinian factions, especially between Hamas and Fatah, which would strengthen the Palestinian representation and legitimacy. A fourth alternative could be to enhance the regional and international cooperation and support for the Palestinian cause which would increase the pressure on Israel to end the occupation and respect the rights of the Palestinians.
It is unlikely that Israel will be able to implement this project, as it would face strong opposition and resistance from the Palestinians, the Egyptians, and the international community. It would also risk escalating the conflict and creating more instability and violence in the region. The proposal is seen by most people as unrealistic, immoral, and dangerous.