President Sisi’s Gift*
Something extraordinary has happened.
On August 31, PLO chief and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas told an audience of Fatah members that Egypt had offered to give the PA some 1,600 kilometers of land in Sinai adjacent to Gaza, thus quintupling the size of the Gaza Strip. Egypt even offered to allow all the so-called “Palestinian refugees” to settle in the expanded Gaza Strip.
Then Abbas told his Fatah followers that he rejected the Egyptian offer.
On Monday Army Radio substantiated Abbas’s claim.
According to Army Radio, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi proposed that the Palestinians establish their state in the expanded Gaza Strip and accept limited autonomy over parts of Judea and Samaria.
In exchange for this state, the Palestinians would give up their demand that Israel shrink into the indefensible 1949 armistice lines, surrendering Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria. Sisi argued that the land Egypt is offering in Sinai would more than compensate for the territory that Abbas would concede.
In his speech to Fatah members, Abbas said, “They [the Egyptians] are prepared to receive all the refugees, [and are saying] ‘Let’s end the refugee story.’” “But,” he insisted, “It’s illogical for the problem to be solved at Egypt’s expense. We won’t have it.”
In other words, Sisi offered Abbas a way to end the Palestinians’ suffering and grant them political independence. And Abbas said, “No, forget statehood. Let them suffer.”
Generations of Israeli leaders and strategists have insisted that Israel does not have the ability to satisfy the Palestinian demands by itself without signing its own death warrant. To satisfy the Palestinian demand for statehood, Israel’s neighbors in Egypt and Jordan would have to get involved.
Until Sisi made his proposal, no Arab leader ever seriously considered actually doing what must be done. Indeed, the rejection of this self-evident Israeli claim has been so overwhelming that in recent years, every Israeli suggestion to this effect was met with raised eyebrows and dismissal by Israelis and foreigners alike.
So what is driving Sisi? How do we account for this dramatic shift? In offering the Palestinians a large swathe of the Sinai, Sisi is not acting out of altruism. He is acting out of necessity. From his perspective, and from the perspective of his non-jihadist Sunni allies in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, the Palestinian campaign against Israel is dangerous.
Facing the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran, and the rise of jihadist forces from al-Qaida to the Islamic State to the Muslim Brotherhood, the non-jihadist Sunnis no longer believe that the prolongation of the Palestinian jihad against Israel is in their interest.
Egypt and Jordan have already experienced the spillover of the Palestinian jihad. Hamas has carried out attacks in Egypt. The Palestinian jihad nearly destroyed Lebanon and Jordan. Egypt and Saudi Arabia now view Israel as a vital ally in their war against the Sunni jihadists and their struggle against Iran and its hegemonic ambitions. They recognize that Israeli action against Sunni and Shi’ite jihadists in Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran serves the interests of non-jihadi Sunnis. And, especially after the recent conflict in Gaza, they realize that the incessant Palestinian campaign against Israel ultimately strengthens the jihadist enemies of Egypt and Saudi Arabia like Hamas.
Apparently, Sisi’s offer to Abbas is an attempt to help the Palestinian people and take the Palestinian issue out of the hands of Palestinian jihadists.
Unfortunately for Sisi and his fellow non-jihadist Sunnis, Abbas is having none of this.
In rejecting Sisi’s offer Abbas stood true to his own record, to the legacies of every Palestinian leader since Nazi agent Haj Amin el-Husseini, and to the declared strategic goal of his own Fatah party and his coalition partners in Hamas. Since Husseini invented the Palestinians in the late 1920s, their leaders’ primary goals have never been the establishment of a Palestinian state or improving the lives of Palestinians. Their singular goal has always been the destruction of the Jewish state, (or state-in-themaking before 1948).
Sisi offered to end Palestinian suffering and provide the Palestinians with the land they require to establish a demilitarized state. Abbas rejected it because he is only interested hurting Israel. If Israel is not weakened by their good fortune, then the Palestinians should continue to suffer.
For Israel, Sisi’s proposal is a windfall.
First of all, it indicates that the Egyptian-Saudi- UAE decision to back Israel against Hamas in Operation Protective Edge was not a fluke. It was part of an epic shift in their strategic assessments.
And if their regimes survive, their assessments are unlikely to change so long as Iran and the Sunni jihadists continue to threaten them.
This means that for the first time since Israel allied with Britain and France against Egypt in 1956, Israel can make strategic plans as part of a coalition.
Second, Sisi’s plan is good for Israel on its merits.
The only way to stabilize the situation in Gaza and comprehensively defeat Hamas and the rest of the terrorist armies there is by expanding Gaza.
If, as Sisi offered, the Palestinians of Judea and Samaria accept limited autonomy, Israel will no longer be demographically challenged. As a consequence Israel could apply its laws to Area C, ensuring its long-term security requirements and safeguarding the civil rights of all of its citizens.
Sisi’s plan is a boon for Israel as well because it calls Abbas’s bluff.
Abbas is genuflected to by the US and the EU who insist that he is a moderate. The Israeli Left insists that he is the only thing that stands between Israel and destruction.
Yet here we see him openly acknowledging that from a strategic perspective, he is no different from the last of the jihadists. He prefers to see his people wallow in misery and poverty, without a state to call their own, than to see Israel benefit in any way.
Abbas’s rejection of Sisi’s offer demonstrates yet again that he and his Fatah comrades are the problem, not the solution. Continued faith in the PLO as a partner in peace and moderation is foolish and dangerous. He would rather see Hamas and Iran flourish than share a peaceful future with Israel.
The only reason that Abbas is able to continuously reject all offers of statehood and an end to Palestinian suffering, while expanding his diplomatic war against Israel and supporting his coalition partner’s terror war, is because the US and Europe continue to blindly support him.
The final way that Sisi’s offer helps Israel is by showing the futility of the West’s strategy of supporting Abbas.
According to Army Radio’s report, both Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and the Obama administration have been briefed on the Egyptian plan. The Americans reportedly support it.
Netanyahu’s position on the Egyptian proposal was not reported. But his recent statements indicate that he views the Egyptian proposal as a sea change that may facilitate a diplomatic breakthrough.
During his press conference following the conclusion of the cease-fire in Gaza a week and a half ago, Netanyahu was asked about the prospect of renewing the peace process with Abbas.
Netanyahu responded vaguely that prospects of the peace process are better now, in light of regional shifts. With the Egyptian proposal now out in the open, and assuming that this is what Netanyahu was referring to, his remarks were accurate.
Sisi’s offer, even with Abbas’s rejection of it is a gift to Israel. And Israel’s challenge in the weeks and months ahead is to make the most of it.
f the Americans force Abbas to accept Sisi’s offer, Israel and the Palestinian people will benefit.
And if Abbas successfully scuttles it, Sisi’s offer will show that Israel is correct that it cannot satisfy Palestinian demands on its own, and indeed, it demonstrates how unreasonable those demands are.
Sisi’s offer demonstrates that for non-jihadist Sunnis, not only is Israel not the problem in the Middle East, a strong Israel is a prerequisite for solving the region’s troubles. Here is a major Arab leader willing to stand with Israel even if it means discrediting the PLO .
As a consequence, Sisi’s offer is a challenge to the US and Europe.
Sisi’s offer shows Washington and Brussels that to solve the Palestinian conflict with Israel, they need to stand with Israel, even if this means abandoning Abbas.
If they do so, they can take credit for achieving their beloved two-state solution. If they fail to do so, they will signal that their primary goal is not peace, but something far less constructive.
* Several hours after this article went to press, the Egyptian Foreign Ministry denied that President Sisi offered Mahmoud Abbas territory in the Sinai. There are several ways to interpret the denial. First, it is possible that Abbas made the whole thing up and that Army Radio’s reporter was sold a bill of goods by her source. Second, it is possible that someone other than Sisi made the offer, and Sisi decided to distance himself from the offer following Abbas’s rejection of it. Third, it is possible that the Egyptians do not want to stick their necks out unless they are sure of success.
Whatever the case may be, the fact is that Abbas gave a speech to Fatah in which he claimed that the Egyptians offered him land in Sinai and insisted that he rejected the offer. In other words, Abbas told his fellow Fatah members that he had rejected an offer that would have brought independence and better lives to millions of Palestinians because the offer didn’t involve harming Israel. In other words, whether the offer is real or in his head, in the mind of the man who is supposed to be a peace seeking moderate, it is better for the Palestinians to suffer and not have a state than enjoy reasonable lives, and have independence if such achievements don’t lead to the destruction of Israel.