Opinion| Is Egypt’s plan a way out of Israel’s war against Hamas?

Hatem Sadek
7 Min Read

The events of October 7 have raised hopes that the Palestinian issue will be back on the international agenda. However, Palestinian blood has often been shed in vain, and it has become evident that some parties have profited from the conflict between the Palestinians and the Israelis, regardless of the lives of the innocent. Every time, the world has looked to Egypt to mediate the crisis, and Egypt has never failed or hesitated to offer all the support it can to its brothers.

The war on Gaza is nearing its third month. Egypt has proposed a three-stage plan. In the first stage, 40 women, elderly, and sick prisoners will be freed, in return for a ceasefire period of two to three weeks. In the second stage, Hamas will release the female captives and the bodies of the dead, in exchange for more Palestinian prisoners being released. The third stage poses the biggest challenge for the Israeli government, as it involves Hamas releasing the Israeli men and soldiers, in return for the liberation of more Palestinian prisoners, the withdrawal of the Israeli army from the Gaza Strip, and a comprehensive truce.

Hatem Sadek
Hatem Sadek

The current Israeli stance is that “it does not approve the details of the Egyptian plan, but it is willing to accept the first stage, which is similar to the prisoner swap deal in late November. However, regarding the next two stages, especially the last one, it cannot commit to them at this point.”

Based on the progress of military operations in the past weeks, many Western military and scientific research centers concur that there is no military solution to this conflict. So far, Israel’s tactical gains have not translated into strategic success. This supports what US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin warned that “large civilian casualties could turn any tactical Israeli victory into a strategic defeat.”

After 10 weeks of war, Hamas claims that it is “resilient and that the Israeli occupation is fading away,” while the Israeli Army Chief of Staff states that “the army is working to consolidate its control over northern Gaza and infiltrate the southern sector, as well as intensify its underground activity,” but Hamas’s tunnels are the biggest hurdle and will complicate the military solution and prolong the war and its high cost.

Despite the American and Western appeals to the Israeli side to consider “the protection of Palestinian civilians in Gaza a moral duty and a strategic necessity,” and that “the two-state solution is the only viable way out of the tragic conflict,” Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, the most extreme in Israel’s history, rejects these arguments. It insists on the maximalist goal of “eliminating Hamas.”

Amid this confusion, uncertainty, and violence at the military level and the lack of a clear political vision, the fierce Israeli bombing and military operation in the Gaza Strip continue with unprecedented losses in human lives and Palestinian cities, to the point that European Union Foreign Minister Josep Borrell said that “the scale of Gaza’s destruction surpasses what the cities faced in Germany in World War II.

As the battles continue and neither side achieves a decisive victory or resolution, the obvious and inevitable outcome is the need to return to the negotiating table and seek mutually acceptable solutions that preserve everyone’s dignity. Therefore, the Egyptian initiative or plan may be a lifeline for all parties after they have exhausted all the means and methods of war so that the future of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank becomes the new focus.

The United States may hope for the Palestinian Authority to resume its rule over the coastal enclave, which is now under Hamas’s control. However, there are serious doubts about the capacity of the National Authority and its staff to assert its authority over the Gaza Strip, which has been under Hamas’s sway for more than two decades.

In fact, some of the current leaders in the Palestinian Authority are facing more crises than they can handle, and this adds to the complexity of the situation. Their relations with the most influential Arab countries have deteriorated, which often hindered positive plans that were devised to improve the economic conditions of the people in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.

Certainly, the policies that have been and are being implemented by the successive governments of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the West Bank for a long time have contributed to the systematic weakening of the Palestinian Authority over the past fifteen years.

We cannot overlook the persistent “rejectionist” approach adopted by Netanyahu regarding post-war planning for Gaza, which greatly affects the lukewarm Arab reaction to American proposals for the future of the Strip. Moreover, some Arab countries prefer to keep their distance from US President Joe Biden’s administration’s planning for the post-war period. This is because they have a dominant feeling that planning is somewhat pointless as long as the fighting goes on. This is in addition to the lack of agreement in the Arab world that Israel will be able to eliminate Hamas.

In any case, the ball will soon be in the Palestinian court to show its seriousness and ability to reunite Gaza and the West Bank before things get worse. We are afraid that we will witness an internal power struggle in the West Bank between the old and new leaders, and then there will be no use for regret.

Hatem Sadek – Professor at Helwan University

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