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Egypt’s Initiative:
In Israel’s Interest

Danny Rubinstein

Israel will be making a mistake if it lets the Egyptian initiative slip away. The full details of the plan have not been made public, but its main points are known: The Egyptians will arrange a hudna (cease-fire) among all Palestinian organizations, they will send experts to the Gaza Strip to organize and rehabilitate the Palestinian security forces, and the Palestinians will assume responsibility in Gaza after the settlements are dismantled and the Israel Defence Forces withdraw.

The first problem the Egyptians have is not actually with Israel, but rather with the Palestinians. The Egyptians have tried to open discussions with the leadership of Hamas, first of all to stop the firing of Qassam rockets. Hamas said no. The Hamas spokesman in Gaza, Sami Abu-Zahari, announced at the end of last week: "The Hamas movement rejects any initiative, Palestinian or Arab, to stop firing Qassam rockets on Israeli communities and settlements."

The Palestinian initiative to which he referred was the demand by the residents of the town of Beit Hanun to stop firing the rockets because IDF operations in the area, under way for some 10 days, were causing them severe damage. The residents of Beit Hanun brought their case before the Supreme Committee of the National and the Islamic Forces, but its members were unable to arrive at a decision.

Those firing the rockets are apparently heartened by the fact that they have managed to increase their range and to find hiding places from which to fire them; consequently, the IDF has had to expand its activities as far as the outskirts of the Jabalya refugee camp. But what will happen afterward? How far can they be pursued, how much agricultural land can be obliterated, how many houses can be destroyed in Gaza?

There is thus enough reason for it to be in Israel's primary interest to bring a government of law and order to Gaza - before withdrawal and thereafter. Egyptian involvement in the Strip is the only way to achieve this. The government of Israel is willing in principle to accept Egyptian assistance: Prime Minister Ariel Sharon even welcomed it. But when the Egyptians presented their list of demands from Israel, it turned out that the gap between the positions of the two countries was great.

The Egyptians want Israel's withdrawal to be complete (land, sea, and air), although a compromise will probably be made on this point. The Egyptians will be willing, of course, to be more flexible with regard to their demand to allow "safe passage" between the West Bank and Gaza, and also with regard to freedom of movement for Yasser Arafat.

They will not, however, give up on their demand that after withdrawal, Israel will cease all military operations in Gaza. The Palestinian foreign minister, Nabil Shaath, who visited Cairo last weekend, discovered that on this issue, the Egyptians will not budge. All the latest reports state that the Egyptian authorities are not willing under any circumstances for their forces to risk danger by becoming involved in fire fights in Gaza. It has been 30 years since Egyptian and Israeli soldiers last shot at each other, and the Egyptians do not want to take a chance that this will occur again, in Gaza.

Another stumbling block that Sharon has placed before the Egyptians is his demand that Egypt not become an intermediary between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. The principle of unilaterality in Sharon's plan lost its significance when the Egyptians, European countries and the U.S. became involved. The only thing left of it is the boycott of the PA, which the prime minister strives obsessively to preserve. It is a boycott reminiscent of the days when Israeli law prohibited meetings with PLO officials. Sharon seems willing to turn the world upside down, as long as there is no appearance of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

If the government of Israel insists on this, the involvement of Egypt in the Gaza Strip will probably be of little value. In the end, the Palestinians will control Gaza - not the Egyptians. The whole significance of the Egyptian initiative is about encouraging the withdrawal from Gaza, which may help resuscitate negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

Source: Ha’aretz, July 12, 2004, http://www.haaretz.com

CGNews promotes constructive perspectives and dialogue about current Middle East issues. The views expressed in these articles are those of the authors, not of CGNews or its affiliates.

From the Common Ground News Service
hagalil.com 22-03-2004



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