Egypt-Israel land swap idea likely to be a dead end

Palestinian security forces loyal to Hamas stand at the Rafah crossing point between Egypt and the southern Gaza Strip in Rafah. (File/ AFP)

Concerns over the US’ soon-to-be-announced Middle East peace plan, dubbed “the deal of the century” by many politicians, are growing in many countries, especially Egypt and Jordan, where some leaks indicated the possibility of resettling millions of Gaza’s population in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula and Jordan’s Negev desert.

This was denied by the US administration, as Jason Greenblatt, the US Special Envoy to the Middle East and one of those involved in preparing the plan, said such reports were totally false. “Jordan is a strong US ally and rumors that our peace vision includes a confederation between Jordan, Israel and the PA (Palestinian Authority), or that the vision contemplates making Jordan the homeland for Palestinians, are incorrect,” he said. Greenblatt concluded his statement on Twitter last week with “please do not spread rumors.”

The situation around “the deal of the century” is witnessing further complications as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised, just days before this month’s national elections, to extend Israeli sovereignty to West Bank settlements.

The PA has already voiced its rejection of the expected plan, since President Donald Trump has recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and transferred the US Embassy there from Tel Aviv. There is also a rumor circulating that the plan will see Abu Dis made the Palestinian capital. We most certainly will not adopt the leaked information, nor will we totally believe the statements of Americans, as we know them very well. However, as an Egyptian citizen who has lived through the Arab-Israeli conflict — especially after the October 1973 war and the following peace treaty — I am allowed to bring up some of what has previously happened with the land-for-peace concept. This is an old idea, which was first proposed by the Israelis to late Egyptian President Anwar Sadat during peace negotiations. The concept was to offer part of the Negev desert if Egypt relinquished parts of the Sinai. Surprisingly, Sadat agreed, provided that he was allowed to choose the land Egypt would receive. The shrewd president chose Eilat, the only Israeli port on the Red Sea. Predictably, the Israelis rejected such a condition.

Attempts continued during the era of President Hosni Mubarak, who refused to even discuss the idea, despite all temptations and pressures. We do not know what happened during the Muslim Brotherhood’s one-year rule. There is evidence that the Brotherhood offered concessions or commitments, probably in line with the document of Giora Eiland, Israel’s former national security adviser, written in early 2010. The long and detailed document included a suggestion offered by the US administration to Arab countries to improve their relations with Israel in exchange for the ceding of some lands. The only thing Arab countries have, and Israel and Palestine desperately need, is land, so if these countries relinquished small parts, a great improvement could be achieved for both states.

The coming days will reveal many things, but we will have to wait until after Ramadan to see the much-anticipated peace plan.

Dr. Abdellatif El-Menawy

Eiland’s document was designed to establish the basis for the agreement. It stipulated that Egypt would relinquish to Gaza some 720 square kilometers of land, including the Strip being extended 24 kilometers along the Mediterranean coast from Rafah in the west to Arish, and a strip of land west of Kerem Shalom in the south. On that basis, the Gaza Strip would increase in size from 365 to more than 1,000 square kilometers. In exchange for the lands relinquished to Palestine by Egypt, Israel would give the latter a similar area in the southwest of the Negev.

The document tried to show the benefits that Egypt would reap from the land exchange. The first benefit would be for Israel to give Egypt the right to dig a canal connecting it with Jordan, thus allowing movement between the two countries without the need for Israeli approval. Moreover, oil pipes would be constructed across Iraq and Jordan, and Saudi Arabia and the Gulf countries to the south, bringing great economic benefits.

Another reward would be water and energy, as the document stated that the international community would grant Egypt huge investments from the World Bank to finance water desalination plants and nuclear reactors to generate electricity. The document also said that Egypt would be allowed to make changes to the peace accord’s military annex.

However, the recent leaks about Jordan and Egypt’s rejection of the annexation of their territories pushed the other party in the deal (Israel) and its cook (the US) to think of an alternative — the naturalization of Palestinians in both Jordan and Egypt. Proposals included mechanisms to ensure the entry and exit of Palestinians through border crossings, along with the establishment of Palestinian industrial projects. Egyptian laws would be decided later, with the possibility of granting Palestinians citizenship according to specific conditions. In exchange, it was said that Cairo would be granted $65 billion in several payments, along with projects in North Sinai to be able to handle the expected increase in the number of workers.

The one sure thing is that Egypt’s current leadership, based on firm ethical principles, is against the idea of a land exchange and totally rejects the idea of ceding any Egyptian land to resolve any dispute.

The coming days will reveal many things, but we will have to wait until after Ramadan to see the much-anticipated peace plan. Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who is one of the main architects of “the deal of the century,” told Time magazine that the plan will not be unveiled until early June.

  • Dr. Abdellatif El-Menawy is a critically acclaimed multimedia journalist, writer and columnist who has covered war zones and conflicts worldwide. Twitter: @ALMenawy


Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News’ point-of-view

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