'New state' delusion: A Greater Gaza would be as bad as it sounds

'New state' delusion: A Greater Gaza would be as bad as it sounds
© SAID KHATIB/AFP/Getty Images

Over the weekend, Palestinian terrorists bombarded southern Israel with more than 600 rockets aimed at millions of innocent civilians, just two weeks after three former Israeli security officials once again proposed convincing Egypt to cede land to Hamas to mollify their appetite for violence.

In April 2016, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi announced that he was ceding two small Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia, apparently as quid pro quo for a $16 billion investment deal. In Egypt, the move caused an uproar. In Israel, it led some ancillary security wonks to revive a scheme for solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

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Seven months later, prominent Israeli veterans campaigner Benjamin Anthony unveiled the “New State Solution” (NSS), which would establish an independent Palestinian state spanning Gaza and a much larger adjoining coastal tract in the Sinai Peninsula to be donated by Egypt’s Sisi. The idea has been endorsed by a slew of former Israel Defense Forces (IDF) officers, notably Brig. Gen. (Ret.) Amir Avivi.

This idea actually is over a decade old, known in the Middle East as “Greater Gaza.” The idea was revived, not coincidentally, by the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas after the Arab upheavals in the Middle East in 2011. For example, in 2012, the Supreme Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood, Mohammed Badie, currently sentenced to death in Egypt on terrorism-related charges, stated that he “doesn’t mind relocating Palestinians in refugee camps in Sinai.”

NSS proponents correctly identify Palestinian rejectionism as the reason that a negotiated solution to the conflict won’t work. “The perception that ‘all of the land is ours’ among Palestinians manifests itself everywhere,” writes Avivi, noting that the 2 million Palestinians living in Hamas-ruled Gaza are “undergoing a level of indoctrination that is very extreme, from childhood.” The failed Oslo process showed that granting land to an undefeated enemy of Israel only leads to more violence if rejectionist incitement is allowed to flourish at the societal level.

Why would a Greater Gazan state fare any better? Because, the proponents say, what Palestinians really need is breathing space (“extra territory in order to properly develop”). Instead of land-locked, resource-poor holdings in dreary old Judea and Samaria, the Palestinians would get “miles of beautiful, Mediterranean coastline … no less inviting than that of Tel-Aviv,” Anthony says in his announcement, ripe for the development of “hotels, resorts [and] casinos.” This would give them “something constructive to pour their energies into.”

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But that’s the Oslo Accords repackaged — give Palestinians self-rule with international aid to spur economic development, and pretty soon the ranks of extremists will dwindle. If that were true, we wouldn’t be where we are today. It isn’t lack of space or resources that keeps most Palestinians poor; it’s bad governance and the rejectionism that sustains it.

Far from requiring Palestinian leaders to reject rejectionism as a condition of statehood, NSS does an end run around the issue by creating a state without requiring them to make concessions on anything. The proposed state, which would be “fully sovereign … with the freedom to defend itself,” is sure to be dominated by Islamists, and its establishment likely would fuel Islamism among Palestinians in the West Bank, who would be granted absentee citizenship, residency rights where they presently reside, and little else under the NSS plan.

All of this is academic, however, because there’s no evidence that President Sisi (or any other conceivable Egyptian ruler) would be willing to donate a major chunk of Sinai — hallowed ground for which thousands of Egyptian soldiers died fighting.

New Staters say Egypt would receive “massive global investment,” “international security assistance,” and a “place at the center of regional and even global leadership.” Don’t count on it. Using Egyptian territory, in effect, to resettle Palestinian “refugees” would violate a deep-seated taboo, which is one reason Sisi’s Islamist enemies often accuse him of scheming to do just that.  

Sisi’s sole legitimacy to replace the Muslim Brotherhood rule was to stop Palestinians from acquiring land in Sinai. As minister of defense under Mohammed Morsi’s rule, Sisi issued a law that forbids foreign nationals from owning land in “strategic areas of military importance.” According to the Youm el-Sabeh newspaper, this legislation reportedly was a reaction to Morsi’s opening the borders with Gaza and giving Egyptian citizenship to 50,000 Palestinians.

Additionally, Egypt’s economy would be devastated by this plan. Drilling rights for natural gas in the North El Arish and Zohr offshore fields of the Levant basin would be handed over to the New State if Egypt were to cede territory. The loss could amount to billions of dollars in foreign currency for the Egyptian treasury. Portions of the Arab Gas Pipeline, and the entirety of the Arish-Ashkelon pipeline, significant sources of tax remittances for the Egyptian government, would be cut off from Egypt under the New State solution.  

The Egyptian president surely cringes at the fact that a well-organized advocacy group thinks he’s ideal for the role.  

It comes as no surprise, then, that Qatar, a longtime ally of the Muslim Brotherhood and nemesis of Sisi and which is isolated by most moderate Sunni Arab governments, gave Anthony’s organization, Our Soldiers Speak (OSS), a $100,000 donation in October 2017. After receiving the funds, OSS fell victim to the old Qatari two-step: Al-Jazeera and other Qatari-funded media outlets have taken the lead in denouncing NSS, often exaggerating its influence as a way of discrediting Sisi.

Granting more land to Hamas will not change the vision of many Palestinians to eradicate Israel; it will energize the Islamists and spur them to wage greater jihad against the Jewish state.  

Gregg Roman is director of the Middle East Forum, a nonprofit organization that promotes American interests and Western values in the Middle East. Follow him on Twitter @MEForum.

Cynthia Farahat, a fellow at the Middle East Forum and co-founder of the Liberal Egyptian (2006-08) political party, moved to the United States in 2011. Follow her on Twitter @cynthia_farahat.