One little-noted feature of Israel’s much-vaunted plan to "disengage" from Ghazzah is the role envisaged for Egypt after the withdrawal of Israeli troops, should it ever take place...
One little-noted feature of Israel’s much-vaunted plan to "disengage" from Ghazzah is the role envisaged for Egypt after the withdrawal of Israeli troops, should it ever take place. Egyptian and Palestinian officials have had a series of meeting to discuss the issue, but Palestinians generally have proved highly suspicious of Egypt’s involvement. This was confirmed on June 21, when a statement was issued by virtually all Palestinian political groups, including Fatah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Popular and Democratic Fronts for the Liberation of Palestine, warning Egypt against doing Israel’s work for them.
The statement, issued from Damascus, stated that "any zionist withdrawal" from occupied Palestinian territory should be unconditional rather than dependent on "security assurances and guarantees at our people’s expense." It also warned against "dangerous by-products" of the plan, saying that a withdrawal from Ghazzah would not justify the seizure or annexation of land in the West Bank.
However, its main point was addressed to the Egyptian and Jordanian governments: "We are amazed by, and totally deplore, talk of a security role for some Arab parties in Ghazzah and the West Bank, because our people expect the Arab nation to act according to the logic of supporting the Palestinian people, not the logic of [Israel’s] security." The statement pointed out that references to security gave the impression that the Palestinian people were the problem that needed solving, not the Israeli occupation of Palestine.
The same concerns were also echoed by Palestinians in Ghazzah. One senior Hamas official was quoted in Al-Ahram Weekly as saying that "we are not against Egypt, Jordan or any other Arab country helping the Palestinian people. We want this help; we need it and we ask for it. However, we would like to make sure that any Arab role in this regard be utilised to serve, not undermine, the interests of the Palestinian people."
The Sharon plan for disengagement from Ghazzah has yet to be approved by the rest of the Israeli government. It is a well-established Israeli strategy that promises made to the Palestinians are later withdrawn in order to assuage Israeli opinion, while the demands made of the Palestinians are increased for the same reason. In its present form, the plan envisages 1,000 Egyptian policemen taking over Israeli security operations in Ghazzah, as well as sending about 100 ‘advisors’ to help to retrain and restructure the Palestinian Authority’s police force.
In return, Egypt has demanded that the the PA consolidate its security forces – long an Israeli demand – and that Palestinian groups agree a ceasefire. It has also demanded that Israel cease all military operations in Ghazzah, approve the stationing of multinational troops there, and reopen the long-closed passage between Ghazzah and the West Bank. Israel for its part insists on the right to maintain military operations, and rejects any "internationalisation" of the conflict. The Ha’aretz newspaper has already reported that Sharon will seek a "formula that appears to satisfy Egypt’s demands while actually satisfying Israel’s."
The Palestinian statement also emphasised that the Palestinian people reject any compromise with the Israelis, stating that "any withdrawal must be unconditional, with no guarantees for the safety of the enemy, and must be the first step towards the liberation of our lands. The armed struggle will continue until the expulsion of the occupiers." However, the Palestinians are painfully aware that the Israelis are operating from a position of military and political strength, and that some of their own leaders, and their supposed Arab allies, are all too willing to betray them to appease Israel and the US.
Egypt will, however, be aware of the strength of Palestinian feeling. In December Egyptian foreign minister Ahmed Maher was severely heckled by angry Palestinians when he visited the Masjid al-Aqsa during a trip to Israel. But the tragedy is that Egypt and other Arab states really do see the Palestinian resistance as the real problem.