An Egyptian proposal to stop the war and establish a Palestinian state

Stephane Guimbert
Wednesday 1 Nov 2023

Egypt does not have the luxury of waiting, which other regional and international parties have, until Israel finishes off Hamas fighters and leaders and destroys their tunnels and equipment.

 

Completing these military goals will take a long time, cost tens of thousands of innocent Palestinian victims, and push hundreds of thousands more to try to get out of the hell of Gaza through the only outlet currently available in Rafah to the Sinai desert.

The humanitarian pressure on Egypt will then increase to change its declared policy of not accepting the forcible transfer of Palestinians from Gaza to Egypt because it means finishing off the Palestinian national cause, threatens Egyptian national security, and may undermine the Egyptian-Israeli peace agreement.

Public opinion in the United States and the Western world is changing and demanding an immediate end to the war and its tragedies in Gaza. The US administration and other Western governments, however, still do not want to stop the war before Israel eliminates all military capabilities of the Palestinian resistance in Gaza, regardless of whether such a goal is achievable.

I can also detect an increasing American and Western acceptance of what the rest of the world has previously agreed upon, that a return to the situation imposed by Israeli policies against the Palestinians before the current war is unacceptable. After more than two decades of silence and neglect, American officials are now talking about a two-state solution.

Unofficial European and American ideas have emerged proposing placing the Gaza Strip under international protection or administration to ensure that it does not return after the war to be a source of military threat to Israel and a trigger for other subsequent wars. Spain proposed renewing the call to hold another Madrid Peace Conference in the Middle East to approve the aforementioned temporary arrangements until the Palestinian state is established.

Western politicians and scholars volunteered to propose the formation of an international force to maintain security in Gaza and an international team to supervise the coordination of reconstruction efforts and free elections in Gaza and the West Bank.

Palestinian Authority officials who had long remained in power will continue to be in charge until they are replaced by these elections. They lost some of their popular support due to their failure to obtain Israeli agreement on any step that brought them closer to the goal of establishing their independent Palestinian state. Some liberal Jewish American activists stressed the importance of stopping Israeli settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territories. They also called for preventing Israeli settlers from attacking and provoking Palestinians, whether in the West Bank or in Jerusalem.

I believe that the coalition government currently ruling Israel can – with the help of American and Western pressure and Arab encouragement – balance Netanyahu and the extremist parties allied with him. This government represents most segments of the Israeli people, including those who care about achieving security and stability for their state and not expanding at the expense of the Palestinians.

Therefore, I propose that Egypt introduces, as soon as possible, an initiative to stop the war in Gaza immediately, based on the agreement of all concerned parties to the following steps:

1- Israel and all Palestinian factions in Gaza would agree to an immediate and comprehensive ceasefire and an agreed exchange of prisoners and hostages. All Israeli forces will leave the Gaza Strip immediately after the ceasefire takes effect.

2- Forming an international force similar to the multinational force in Sinai (MFO), with the participation of the United States and willing Western and Arab countries. This force should enter Gaza to collect all weapons held by all Palestinian factions there. The mission of this force will be for a transitional period of two years until a Palestinian police force from the Gaza Strip is formed, trained, and equipped to assume the tasks of maintaining security.

The international force's mission will also include monitoring imports into the Gaza Strip and ensuring that they are free of any weapons or military equipment. In a perfect world, the UN Security Council would be able to adopt a unanimous resolution to form this force and define its mandate. However, it is sufficient to have the agreement of the concerned parties and those participating in such a force to agree on its formation and mandate.

3- Forming an international team of representatives of Arab and Western donors and concerned countries to supervise the reconstruction and rehabilitation of Gaza and prepare for new elections in Gaza and the West Bank within two years under the supervision of this team. The team would also preferably derive its mandate from a resolution of the United Nations Security Council.

4- Israel would agree to expand the area of the Gaza Strip from the current 365 square kilometers to about a thousand square kilometres (as shown on the attached map) so that the Strip extends an additional ten kilometers to the north and approximately 30 to 40 kilometers to the east within Israeli existing Negev territory. Israel has already evacuated those lands of their civilian residents because of the war. It should be able to agree on such a land swap for peace. These areas will become buffer zones under the control of the international force, and no Palestinians will enter them throughout the transitional period. The proposed area of additional land to be added to the Gaza Strip (about 600 km) is about equal to the area of the border strip in the West Bank, which contains the largest settlement density. Almost all Israeli governments have long demanded to annex that strip of land in any peace agreement and that the Palestinians be compensated with a similar area in the Negev Desert.

5- Israel would agree to cooperate with the international team to establish a tunnel linking Gaza (with its new proposed expanded borders) and the West Bank (as shown on the attached map). The tunnel would be managed by the international peacekeeping force in cooperation with Israel because it would pass under the Israeli Negev desert and connect the two wings of the emerging Palestinian state.

6- An international conference would be held immediately after the ceasefire with the participation of all concerned parties from the Arab countries, Israel, the permanent members of the United Nations, especially the United States, those participating in the peacekeeping force, and the international team for managing the protection of Gaza.

The conference should approve the aforementioned procedures and issue a declaration to launch Palestinian-Israeli negotiations to reach a peace agreement based on the two-state solution and the exchange of land for peace. Israel should pledge not to build any new settlements or expand existing ones within the territories it occupied in 1967 until a peace agreement is reached within two years. The peace agreement should define the borders of the two states and include mutual measures to ensure the security of both sides, transitional security arrangements, and stages of its implementation.

The Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty needed five years of phased implementation. It took the two countries about forty years of peace and confidence building before they were able to revise the security arrangements and arms limitations in Sinai to enable Egypt to fight terrorism there. All Arab countries participating in the conference, which have not done so yet, would declare an end to the state of hostility with Israel and would affirm their aspiration to establish normal relations with it after reaching the Palestinian-Israeli peace agreement.

It would open the door for Saudi Arabia and other interested countries to begin steps to normalize relations with Israel while linking it to making progress towards a just peace. In return, Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Qatar could bear the largest burden of the cost of rebuilding and developing Gaza.

I am presenting these proposals as a comprehensive package that fulfills both sides' demands. It goes far beyond what Israel and its allies could have accepted before 7 October, which changed many of the facts on the ground.

It is now obvious to almost everyone that the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip cannot last forever without Israelis and Arabs paying the price in blood. Egypt's presentation of such proposals would represent an attempt to prevent a war before it wastes tens of thousands more Palestinian civilian lives. Israel will not be able to achieve a quick and decisive victory in this war and also stands at risk of destroying its economy and staining its image on the world stage.

If this insane war continues, regional parties such as Hezbollah, Iran, and Syria, and international parties such as the United States and Russia, may be drawn into it. It could also escalate into a nuclear war, especially if the United States loses thousands of casualties among its soldiers, whose number in the region approaches 30,000 soldiers in bases on land and ships at sea. Therefore, it is clear that American public opinion itself has begun to shift in favor of demanding an end to the war.

Today, if Egypt introduced this call to reason, to stop the fighting, and to achieve a just peace, it would receive broad support in the Arab and Islamic worlds and from major powers like Russia and China. I hope it will be also well received in the United States, Israel’s largest ally, and the rest of the Western world.

Sensible peace-loving people in Israel and the Arab World would be empowered. I hope they will ultimately prevail. 

*The writer is a retired Egyptian ambassador and a scholar in international relations

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