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.
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Of course, returning Gaza to Egyptian control would present serious challenges as well. A new Egyptian government may not be inclined to do Israel any favors, and it may not want the added responsibility of controlling this volatile territory. Israel also will likely be reluctant to accept an Egyptian presence so close to its main population centers, especially if it is concerned about the new government’s allegiances. And the Palestinian Authority and Arab League would have to be persuaded as well. All this will be difficult because it goes strongly against the conventional wisdom that informed all peace negotiations to date.Skip to next paragraph
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In this light, the notion of returning Gaza to an Egypt that might ally with Islamists may seem ludicrous. But it actually makes more sense than continuing to push for a noncontiguous Palestinian state. Also, Hamas will probably prove to be a headache for the new Egyptian government and Israel regardless. Returning Gaza to Egyptian control could help keep calm on the border between Hamas and Israel, and limit Iran’s ability to import weapons and extremism into Gaza.
Challenges aren't insurmountable
Furthermore, none of the potential problems are insurmountable. The West could provide substantial financial aid and logistical support for a new Egyptian government as it assumes control of Gaza. The process could provide a context for the United States to develop positive diplomatic relations in a new Middle East. And all parties involved could sell the change to their peoples as a strategic and humanitarian success. This may provide a particularly valuable legitimacy boost to a new Egyptian government.
Egyptian control would not necessarily mean the obliteration of Gaza’s Palestinian identity, as self-rule could be allowed, and Gaza could still pursue the “right of return” of refugees to Israel. While Israel may not be inclined to relinquish its claims to Gaza without any agreement on the “right of return,” in a sense it already did so by unilaterally disengaging from its Gaza settlements in 2005, getting nothing in return but persistent rocket attacks. Egyptian control over Gaza could offer Israel additional security, and at the same time provide Gazans with a legitimate foreign backer that they have needed and lacked for some time.
Even if Egypt does not assume control of Gaza, there are other ways it could be more active in Gazan affairs and regional issues. For example, Egypt could take an expanded role in the work being done by the Middle East Desalination Research Center, which has involved Gazans, Jordanians, and West Bank Palestinians in efforts to improve water management in cooperation with Israel. Hamas may be more comfortable working with a new Egyptian government on regional issues, and Egypt could be given a valuable role as an honest broker between Hamas and Israel, a role that Mubarak was unable to fulfill.
The Obama administration and other Western governments will soon be searching desperately for some way to engage with a new Egyptian government and ensure the survival of the Egypt-Israel peace treaty. Arranging for the return of Gaza to Egyptian control may present just such an opportunity, and could help bring much needed peace to the region.
Dashiell Shapiro is a tax lawyer who has worked in the Middle East.