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Saturday, May 28, 2011

Make Gaza part of Egypt

by John MacBeath Watkins

I'd say this is good news, though some might not agree. Egypt has opened its border to the Gaza strip, as one might have expected once a less autocratic regime took over the Egyptian government. Here's the New York Times story on it:

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/29/world/middleeast/29egypt.html?_r=1&hp

In a lovely bit of understatement, the Times notes that:

For years the Rafah border crossing has been a kind of geographic emblem of Egypt’s complicated relationship with Israel.

Egypt had controlled Gaza from the 1949 armistice until the 1967 war, when it lost control to Israel. Anwar Sadat made peace with Israel in 1979 and was assassinated for his trouble in 1981. Egypt never offered citizenship to the residents of Gaza.

In my humble opinion, they should do so now. Under Hosni Mubarak, Gaza's status was the worst of all worlds, with a border closed to ordinary commerce and numerous tunnels under that border that were tolerated for the smuggling of arms to Hamas.

Why did he permit such a situation to persist? Well, for one thing, the suffering of the people of Gaza meant even less to him than the suffering of his own people. He could maintain that he was holding up his end of the peace with Israel, thereby avoiding a costly war, while maintaining some cred with the Arab street by turning a blind eye to the arms smuggling for the continuation of Hamas' symbolic war in which they sent missiles shooting off to kill random Israelis. This did no tactical good but made them look like a force opposing Israel, which helped them stay in power.

Predictably, ordinary Egyptians would not tolerate this once Mubarak had fallen. They want an open border to end the suffering of the people of Gaza, who have been supplied with missiles but not food and medicine. Opening the border, though, could make the transport of weapons into Gaza easier even as it makes the transport of food easier, and that could put an end to the peace treaty with Israel.

The solution is simple, but like so many things in the Middle East, has not been in the interest of the leaders. Make Gaza part of Egypt. Hamas can win an election in Gaza, and put in place a government inflexibly opposed to the very existence of Israel. They cannot win an election to become the government of Egypt, and the government of Egypt will have the ability to police Gaza so that the rockets cease to fall on Israel.

Part of the problem for the Palestinian people has been that they are not a part of their own state, and they are not a part of any other state. In 1970, King Hussein of Jordan even made war on the PLO in his country and expelled them, a necessary step to maintain his own power, but a slap in the face for Palestinians.

Egypt has by now realized the futility of trying to seize Gaza by force, but I don't think force is needed to absorb Gaza. Israel should be happy to see someone other than Hamas rule Gaza, and the people of Gaza should be happy to be a part of a country. The odd man out, of course, is Hamas, but if Egypt offered citizenship to their people, could Hamas stand against them? And how could Israel object to Gaza becoming part of a Muslim nation that has accepted Israel's right to exist?

It is to his shame that Gamal Nassar never offered citizenship to the people of Gaza between 1949 and 1967, when Egypt controlled Gaza. The situation is now fluid in a way it hasn't been since then, and it's time to try something new. What I propose would solve one of the problems that have prevented peace from taking root in this troubled region, but the reason it could happen is not that a peace process could be imposed from the top, but that the people of Egypt wish to see the suffering of Gaza ended. That's a goal that is achievable, and a good on its own.

Too few of the steps toward peace have popular support and a reduction of suffering going for them. This step does, and should be taken.

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