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Opinion

Return Gaza to Egypt: It will help Israel – and the Middle East

Returning Gaza to Egypt would remove a sticking point in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, and bring stability to the region. A post-Mubarak Egypt could have a moderating influence on Hamas, while giving the Gazan people a voice and ensuring greater security for Israel.

By Dashiell Shapiro / March 1, 2011



Washington

The departure of Hosni Mubarak generates fear in Western capitals, and for good reasons. Egypt has been a steadfast ally of the West for decades, as it maintained peace with Israel and worked against Iranian influence in the region. Many Western leaders are frightened to realize that all this may evaporate if anti-Western forces, including the Muslim Brotherhood, gain power in a new government. But a new reality in Egypt may also present opportunities for peacemaking in the region that would have been unthinkable only weeks ago. One of these opportunities is to return Gaza to Egyptian control.

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Egypt controlled the Gaza Strip in 1948, but lost it to Israel during the Six-Day War in 1967. While Egypt and Israel ultimately made peace in 1979, Gaza’s fate remained unresolved, to the detriment of Israel and the Gazan people. The consensus view among parties trying to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian dispute has been that Gaza must be part of a future Palestinian state, along with the West Bank. However, this consensus view makes little sense.

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Gaza and the West Bank are not contiguous territories. And Gaza is controlled by Hamas, a radical Islamic movement opposed to peace with Israel, while the West Bank is controlled by the secular, moderate Palestinian Authority. Making peace between Israel and Palestine would be easier to accomplish if the only territory in dispute was the West Bank. In addition, while many Gazans view themselves as Palestinians, in many ways, they are more culturally and economically connected to Egypt than the West Bank. Increasing these ties could benefit Gazans and move the region closer to peace.

A new Egypt is ripe for returning Gaza

But the idea of returning Gaza to Egyptian control has always been rejected out of hand, mainly by Egypt itself. The rationale for this has always been that Mubarak’s regime would be threatened because the radicalism from Gaza would strengthen the Muslim Brotherhood movement in Egypt. However, this rationale might not apply in a post-Mubarak Egypt, especially one in which the Muslim Brotherhood played a role.

Returning Gaza to Egyptian control could allow political and cultural influence to flow north instead of south. Specifically, a Muslim Brotherhood with relatively moderate positions necessary for competing in national elections could have a constructive influence on Hamas. Finally, a pluralistic Egypt may be more willing to accept the return of Gaza, and the people of Gaza may similarly be more inclined to accept some form of Egyptian control if they had allies in its government.

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