Things have become very complicated in the Palestinian Gaza Strip. After the events of October 7th, which saw the Hamas movement – classified as a terrorist organization in many countries – carry out an attack by breaching the security wall, killing many soldiers and civilians, and taking dozens of hostages.
Israel has formally declared war on Hamas, setting the stage for a major military operation in Gaza as fighting continues to rage. The response could be seen as largely disproportionate as Israel is in essence dealing with a militant operation carried out by faction that does not necessarily represent the entire Palestinian population. Therefore, this may not merit declaring war on 2 million defenseless citizens and pressuring to completely evacuate the people of Gaza.
One can understand the Israeli government’s point of view regarding the necessity of a response to what was done by the Hamas movement, especially since this operation is the first of its kind in terms of impact, surprise, and number of hostages and victims. It is sufficient to mention that the casualties of this operation are the highest in the history of Israeli wars. It is surpassed only by the human toll of the 1973 war against Egypt. In addition, this is the first time that Israel has been exposed to an attack with a wide impact deep within its territory.
In fact, with some ideological connection, it becomes clearer what Israel is targeting with its current plan for the Gaza Strip. If we were to consider the content of the book “The Iron Wall” by renowned scholar Avi Shlaim, which is largely based on Zeev Jabotinsky’s theory regarding recognition of Israel as a state.
In this book, Avi Shlaim believes that the history of the State of Israel is based on the iron wall strategy. He theorizes that the Israeli defense policy revolves around “deterrence”, and that the best way to avoid a large-scale war is to prevent it with military force.
Zeev Jabotinsky’s theory believes that it is useless for the Zionist project to open a dialogue with the Palestinians, and there is no escape from implementing the Zionist program unilaterally and by force. However, the dangers of this strategy, according to Shlaim, were that the Israeli leaders would fall in love with a specific stage of it, and refuse to reach an agreement, even when outstretched hands were available on the other side.
The author regrets that Israel has wasted the opportunities and intentions for peace that were provided by the Arab countries throughout the long years of conﬂict. The principle of “deterrence” is deeply enshrined in the Israeli institution. Therefore, Israel may very well consider the events of October 7th as an existential threat to the state, to which the “deterrence” concept is now being tested and must be re-established.
What is striking this time around is the position of Western nations and the global media, which is centering the solution around Egypt. Egypt is viewed as key to solving the crisis by embracing the people of Gaza in its lands until Israel ends any possible future threat from the Strip. In fact, this is not the first time that the idea of displacing the people of Gaza to Egypt through the Rafah crossing has been raised.
Over the past years and with every Israeli military operation in the Gaza Strip, the Rafah border crossing with Egypt has been at the forefront, which experts describe as a lifeline for the residents of the Strip, due to its humanitarian importance as the only entry point for aid.
Former Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy stressed that the importance of the Rafah crossing “comes from its political value,” noting that “the crossing has political consideration for Egypt, and the Egyptian authorities have always stressed their keenness for it to be managed in the best possible ways for understanding as part of Egypt’s responsibility towards the “Palestinian Cause”
This time around, the matter is being pushed, with intense international pressure, toward settling the residents of Gaza in Egyptian territory. The matter is in line with the Israeli plan called “Giora Eiland,” which was rejected by former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak when it was presented by American envoy Dennis Ross, in exchange for granting Egypt $12 billion and an area of land in the Naqab region.
This plan to settle the population of Gaza in Sinai included a proposal to annex part of Rafah to Al-Arish, with a length of 24 km on the coast of North Sinai and a width of 20 km, making a total of 720 km. This project appeared in November 2000, aiming to increase the area of the Gaza Strip and turn it into a state, with Egypt obtaining a strategic award by connecting it by land to the Kingdom of Jordan from the south.
Washington also resubmitted the plan during the Muslim Brotherhood rule, oﬀering $20 billion and a larger area of land (1,600 km2) after the “Brotherhood” came to power in 2013. The group’s leadership approved the deal, but it was met with strong rejection, especially from the military establishment in Egypt and the minister of Defense at the time Marshal Abdel Fattah El-Sisi.
This time, the world powers did not strongly attempt to work out a plan to calm the situation and did not openly call on all parties to exercise restraint, facilitate the entry of relief materials, and work to free the hostages. The focus seems to hinge on supporting Israel’s movements to displace the entire Gaza Strip. This approach could be seen as mere preparation for a humanitarian catastrophe. It is also viewed by some observers as a form of ethnic cleansing of approximately 2 million citizens who live in Gaza.
It may seem illogical to confine the problem to Egypt’s refusal to accept the displacement process for several reasons:
First, it is not possible to export a humanitarian crisis to the world at the expense of another country’s sovereignty and make the matter appear as if the sovereign country was unfair in not accepting to host the people of the entire Gaza Strip until Israel is done with its revenge. Add to that real fears that these Gaza citizens may never be allowed to return to their land again.
Secondly, Egypt, based on the speech of its President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, saw that the displacement policy represents a clear evasion of the most basic principles of international law, and is an attempt to hollow out the “Palestinian cause” of its content by deporting the Gaza people from their land, perhaps without return.
Thirdly, the lack of logic lies in the contradiction between the goals that Israel may want to achieve and the means it is pursuing. The military operation carried out by the IDF aims to eliminate Hamas and recover the hostages. These goals do not inevitably require the displacement of the entire Gaza Strip and can be achieved through regional pressure.
The question therefore remains: Why is a humanitarian catastrophe being developed and then the world is asking Egypt to bear its consequences without trying to resolve or calm things down?
One may understand Israel’s keenness to seek to dismantle Hamas and recover the hostages, and eﬀorts to that end can be legitimized. However, the idea of carrying out a comprehensive operation and displacing the Gaza Strip is something completely diﬀerent, and its goals cannot be limited to recovering the hostages. Rather, it cannot be ruled out that the situation is being exploited to achieve goals greater than mere “deterrence”.
If the Western powers and the State of Israel continue to push for this solution, the results could prove to be disastrous for the stability of the region, which is already rife with conﬂicts.
United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said that the movement of more than a million people in Gaza “through a densely populated war zone to the south of the Strip, where there is no food, water or shelter, is very dangerous and may not be possible in some cases,” stressing that War has rules. Guterres warned of the seriousness of the situation in Gaza, as hospitals in southern Gaza have reached their maximum capacity and will not be able to receive thousands of new patients from the north.
The existence of a crisis cannot be denied, and Israel’s eﬀorts to secure its citizens cannot be ignored, but the applicable solution must be no more than Israel’s response with specific operations aimed at dismantling Hamas, and negotiating through regional powers to return the hostages immediately. This goal has indeed been achieved in several previous occurrences, albeit the scale of the damage is far higher this time around.
There is also the possibility to seek the presence of international peacekeeping forces in the Strip or perhaps reestablishing an Egyptian administration for the Strip. The focus should always be to continue the serious discussions for the illusive two-state solution. This can represent a final solution to the eternal conﬂict. This may finally achieve for Israel a lasting sense of security, preserve for the Palestinians their legitimate right to an independent state and prevent the region from slipping into further chaos.