In normal times it could be considered an eccentric idea.
But in the climate of uncertainty over the future of the two-state solution accompanying the advent of the Trump administration and amid the apparent helplessness of the Palestinian Authority in the face of that, a prominent Palestinian commentator is warning that the idea of a Palestinian state comprised of Gaza and part of Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula is gaining currency.
Ayoub Kara, a Likud minister- without-portfolio, tweeted before Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s meeting last Wednesday with President Donald Trump that the two men would “adopt the plan of Egyptian President al-Sisi. A state in Gaza and Sinai. Instead of Judea and Samaria.Thus will the path be paved for an overall peace with the Sunni coalition.”
Kara was referring to reports in 2014 that a proposal was made by Sisi to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas that a part of Sinai be annexed to Gaza and that the Palestinians be able to settle refugees in what would become the new state. Egypt denied that Sisi ever made such an offer, but the reports touched off an enthusiastic response among right-wing MKs.
Egypt begins allowing goods through its border to Gaza on February 8, 2017 (credit: REUTERS)
Even though Netanyahu said there had been no discussion of this in his talks at the White House and even though the idea of a Gaza-Sinai state has no support internationally, what is perceived to be Trump’s stepping back from longstanding US commitment to the emergence of an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza has fueled speculation and uncertainty about what may come next. Worry over a Gaza-Sinai state may not be rooted in reality but it is an expression of a real fear that the Palestinian cause is going to be liquidated under the Trump administration.
Gaza commentator Fayez Abu Shamala, commenting in the London-based Rai al-Youm website, wrote that it was time to recognize the two-state solution is finished. “Forever the program of a settlement based on the two-state solution has ended. What happened in the West Bank from demographic and geographic changes has decidedly ended it and proven to the world that the two-state solution is dead and is buried by Jewish settlement.”
“This fact should not be denied by the Palestinian leaders themselves who began proposing a one-state program as an alternative to the two-state project,” he said, referring to remarks by Abbas aide Saeb Erekat warning that Palestinians could start pressing for equality in a one-state framework.
Abu Shamala argued that such threats are empty because “Israel is not a stupid country,” and will not grant the West Bank Palestinians citizenship. “Israel will never give Palestinians a chance to demand a democratic one-state solution by which Palestinians will win through demography.”
Instead, he predicted, Israel will opt for a “regional solution” by which a Palestinian state will be created in Gaza.
Land will be added from the north of Sinai, and Israel will give Egypt Negev land to compensate for that. As for the West Bank, Israel will annex Area C, the area currently under full Israeli control, and issue Israeli identity cards to Palestinians who live there.
Meanwhile, autonomy will be granted to the large cities of the West Bank or perhaps there will be an administrative link to Jordan. “Security from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River will be under the control of Israel,” he wrote.
Abu Shamala wrote that the Palestinians need to act now to thwart this from becoming a reality. But he advocated a course of action that appears to have scant chance of being enacted. “The leadership needs to face its responsibility and declare that its project has failed, dismantle the Palestinian Authority and the security apparatus and tell the Arab leaders at the Arab summit next month, ‘you are responsible.’ The Palestinian people will then start a new road of struggle and will offer sacrifices.
The Arab leaders after that will become unable to take part in the regional solution.”
Naji Shurrab, a political scientist at Al-Azhar University in Gaza, believes there will now be American, Israeli and Arab attention to the idea of establishing a Palestinian state in Gaza. He does not think Sinai’s inclusion will be discussed immediately because of Egyptian refusal, but that could eventually change if Israel were willing to transfer land from the Negev to Egypt in a regional arrangement. “I think that for the US, Israel and the Arab states establishing a Palestinian state in Gaza is an option that will be on the table in the future,” he said.
“A Palestinian state in the West Bank will be refused strongly by Israel but Israel may receive the support of the new administration to think of a Palestinian state in Gaza,” he said.
Most analysts think that is a non-starter. “Gaza is not a solution, it keeps the problem alive in the West Bank, it’s not a serious thought,” said Ghassan Khatib, vice president of Bir Zeit University in the West Bank. He believes that Netanyahu’s plan is simply to maintain the status quo. “There’s no pressure on him, nothing is bothering him and he can expand the settlements.”
“Talking about a Gaza state is a way of escaping the inevitable outcome which is two states and avoiding that settlement expansion is illegitimate, and goes against international public opinion and international law. It deviates the discussion and attention from the issues that need to be looked at to non-issues,” he said.