Egypt's vision for Gaza Strip in post-war era: ‘Palestinian responsibility’, says ECSS

Merna Hesham , Thursday 9 Nov 2023

One month into the ongoing Israeli war on the Gaza Strip, concerns about Gaza's “day after” are rising in global political and intellectual circles, aiming to prevent a resurgence of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.


The Egyptian Centre for Strategic Studies (ECSS) issued a thought paper on Gaza’s future from an Egyptian standpoint.

The paper diverges from Western perspectives and approaches, which tend to show bias in favour of Israel, by adducing an alternative viewpoint that is grounded in a more comprehensive understanding of Palestinian rights in the post-war era.

In case Israel succeeded in its declared objective of wiping out Hamas, the paper argues, a “vacuum” will be created in Gaza, which should then become a primarily Palestinian responsibility.    

Established in 2018 as an independent non-profit think tank, the ECSS aims to carry out – and publish – studies that offer a different perspective on strategic shifts taking place on the national, regional, and international levels.


Biased Western Perceptions


In its paper, the ECSS highlights different Western perceptions of Gaza’s probable status and future following the Israeli military operation.

Hence, the thought paper identifies three key assumptions underlying these perceptions:

  1. Successful eradication of Hamas by Israel.
  2. Israel's absolution of accountability for Gaza post-ceasefire.
  3. Establishment of a transitional administration until the Palestinian Authority (PA) assumes control.

Various scenarios for a transitional administration have been proposed, including the involvement of technocratic figures, UN governance, multinational forces, or an Arab consortium overseeing security.

However, the ECSS points out several issues with these scenarios:

  1. Lack of emphasis on achieving a ceasefire, otherwise crucial for realizing the proposed visions.
  2. Biased favouritism towards Israel that would relieve it of its obligations as an occupying power and shift repercussions onto other actors.
  3. The narrow focus on Gaza, since 7 October, in a way that aligns with Israeli efforts to isolate Gaza from the broader Palestinian cause.
  4. Overemphasis on eradicating Hamas without adequately considering the ongoing humanitarian toll and the potential for conflict escalation.
  5. Alignment with Israeli objectives and prioritizing Hamas eradication over addressing Palestinian concerns.
  6. Paying no attention to widespread discontent among Arab and Palestinian populations due to the destruction and casualties in Gaza.

Therefore, according to the ECSS, Western perceptions appear geared towards ensuring “Israel's triumphant exit from the conflict.”

In addition, these perceptions almost ignore reaching a lasting peaceful settlement, offering instead temporary solutions with limited benefits to the Palestinian side and little motivation for the PA to play a significant role in Gaza's future.


A Comprehensive Egyptian Perspective


“A two-state resolution is the only viable course of action to resolve the Palestinian cause,” the paper contends.

The paper’s thesis thus coincides with Egypt’s official stance on the Palestinian issue and its firm belief in a two-state solution that excludes using military force to resolve the conflict and reinforces an end to the conflict through political and diplomatic means.

Egypt has consistently accentuated the political track, as reflected in hosting the Cairo Summit for Peace in October.

Egypt strongly opposes forced displacement of the Palestinians, considering the issue to be non-negotiable.

Contrary to Western approaches, the Egyptian perspective on the Day After focuses on achieving a complete ceasefire and extending discussions beyond Gaza's immediate aftermath to encompass the broader Palestinian cause.

The ECSS notes that Egypt has consistently supported the PA and sought national reconciliation since Hamas took control of Gaza in 2007. However, not much progress has been achieved on reconciliation due to the intransigence of the Palestinian factions and Israel’s constant attempts to drive a wedge between them and use this as a pretext for forestalling the peace process leading to a political settlement.  

The lack of political progress contributed to conditions conducive to further clashes, which has taken a heavy toll on Gaza's infrastructure and the lives of Palestinians under siege.


Rafah crossing following the War


The ECSS emphasizes the significance of the Rafah crossing, the only route connecting the Gaza Strip to the outside world, and Egypt's role in delivering humanitarian assistance to Gaza. 

Even though the 2005 Agreement on Movement and Access required that the crossing only function when three parties—the Palestinian National Authority, Israel, and the European Union—are present on the Palestinian side, Egypt has been committed to keeping the crossing open for Palestinians.

Following Hamas's takeover of the Gaza Strip, European Union and PA personnel withdrew.

As per the agreement, the absence of representatives of the EU and PA would result in the closure of the crossing, an outcome that Egypt had diligently sought to prevent for several years.

The flare-up of the current Israeli-Palestinian confrontation has transformed the crossing from a means for individuals to pass through to a critical route for delivering aid trucks.

Western perceptions that absolve Israel of its responsibilities to the Palestinians imply the termination of the 2005 Agreement on Movement and Access and Israel's disconnection from the operation of the crossing.

Regardless of the outcome of the expected events in Gaza, the ECSS suggests that the crossing will become "wholly Palestinian-Egyptian," signifying complete Palestinian sovereignty over the Palestinian side of the crossing.


A Palestinian Solution Scenario


Amid the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian escalation and biased Western perceptions, a comprehensive and fair resolution to the Palestinian cause requires a "Palestinian solution" that excludes external interventions in the Gaza Strip. 

This scenario envisions the reinstatement of the PA to restore the conditions that had been extant before Hamas decided to rule Gaza in 2007.

It also proposes that the PA be responsible politically and socially for Gaza while Hamas and Jihad become Palestinian factions aligned with other Palestinian groups.

“The subsequent admission of Islamic Jihad and Hamas into the Palestine Liberation Organization will be sufficient to grant legitimacy to every constituent of the Palestinian people,” the ECSS opined.

However, some requirements must be met for this scenario to succeed:

  1. Preparing Gaza's population for the return of the PA to avoid internal conflicts.
  2. The PA's return should be accompanied by Arab and international support, guarantees, and commitments to revive the political process based on the two-state solution. 
  3. Providing institutional and financial support to the PA to help it cope with the aftermath of Israeli bombings, which caused extensive damage to Gaza's infrastructure.

This assistance would help reestablish the PA's position as a recognized Palestinian entity, rebalance factional dynamics, and restore popular legitimacy for its presence in Gaza.

The proposed scenario seeks to prevent a permanent Palestinian-Palestinian divide, protect the Palestinian cause from external influences, and maintain control over the relationship with Israel to avoid further harm to the people of Gaza, all of which could pave the way for a peaceful settlement in the region.

The paper suggested that while Western views about aid and facilitating the PA's return may have theoretical merit, they must align with the preferences of the PA and Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. 

The West's experience restoring political parties to authority, as seen in Iraq two decades ago, is a cautionary example. Therefore, in the case of the Palestinians, there must be assurances of a timely end to the transitional phase and the restoration of normalcy conducive to the Palestinian cause and the path to settlement.

The lingering concern that the transitional phase may become a stable state resistant to modification provides grounds to reject the core idea of a Western-backed return, according to the ECSS’s paper.

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