El-Sisi Rejects US-Israeli Proposal for North Sinai Refuge for Gazans

Analysis: Strained relations with both the US and Israel prompted the Egyptian president to snub President Biden dismiss plans for Egypt to offer a temporary refuge for Gazans fleeing the Israel-Hamas conflict
Mina Nader and Jacob Wirtschafter|
US President Joe Biden obtained an agreement with Egypt and Israel on Wednesday to begin humanitarian assistance to the Gaza Strip. However, Egyptian analysts say that Egypt's fraught relationship with the White House and a deterioration in its partnership with Israel have doomed both American and Israeli efforts to engage the el-Sisi administration in organizing a temporary refuge in North Sinai for Palestinian civilians fleeing the Hamas-Israel war.
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“We reject the displacement of Palestinians from their land,” el-Sisi declared at a Cairo press conference on Wednesday after meeting with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz. “Moving them to Egypt is a military operation that could last years. … The peace we [Egyptians] have worked for would slip from our hands, as would a resolution to the Palestinian issue,” he said.
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נשיא מצרים עבד אל פתח א סיסי עם קנצלר גרמניה אולף שולץ בקהיר
נשיא מצרים עבד אל פתח א סיסי עם קנצלר גרמניה אולף שולץ בקהיר
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi
(Photo: Michael Kappeler / EPA /POOL)
The Egyptian leader is firmly against accommodating Israel’s stated goal of separating Hamas from the civilian population on his nation’s territory just as he launches his campaign for a third term in office. El-Sisi had planned to meet Biden, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, and Jordan’s King Abdullah II later in the day at a four-way summit in Amman. However, Jordan canceled the event in the wake of the blast at Al-Ahli Hospital in Gaza City.
Said Sadek, a professor of peace studies at Egypt-Japan University in Alexandria, said there had been an erosion in political and security understandings between Israel and Egypt since the 2008 and 2014 Gaza wars when Cairo played a crucial role in de-escalations and cease-fires. “This is completely unlike previous situations with limited Hamas and Israel clashes and when no one in the Israeli forces ever suggested they were going to deport up to 2 million Palestinians from Gaza into Sinai,” he said.
“In prior conflicts, we acted as a mediator and facilitator between two warring parties, helping to broker cease-fires and exchange prisoners. Now Israel wants Egypt not to act as mediator or facilitator but as a party to a final solution for the Palestinian Question, with our country agreeing to host more than 2 million Gazans in return for promises of large sums of money.”
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פלסטינים בורחים  בתקיפת צה"ל בעזה
פלסטינים בורחים  בתקיפת צה"ל בעזה
Gaza residents flee Israeli strikes
(Photo: Hatem Moussa / AP)
Egyptians fear a replay of the 1991 Gulf War scenario when then-President Hosni Mubarak agreed to military intervention in exchange for dropping a massive write-off of Egypt’s debts. “Even with economic hardship, which includes the loss of half the value of the Egyptian pound since March 2022 and inflation reaching a whopping 38 percent in September, it is difficult for Egypt domestically and regionally to accept any resettlement plans, even if they are called temporary,” Sadek said.
“People don’t want the additional burden of hosting angry Gazans who lost loved ones, with some motivation to turn Sinai into a launching ground for missiles against Israel. This would only bring trouble to Egypt, lead to clashes with Israel, and destroy tourism in the Sinai.”
The Gulf-centric Abraham Accords and the indifference of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government to Arab sensibilities have narrowed Egypt’s motivation to accommodate a plan to allow a massive entry of Palestinian refugees.
Mada Masr, a well-sourced independent Egyptian news portal, reported on Oct. 11 that Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and most importantly Saudi Arabia had sidelined Egypt in talks touching on Palestinian matters while Israelis and Americans participated.
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הריסות בא-זהרא
הריסות בא-זהרא
Aftermath of an Israeli air strike on Gaza
(Photo: Shadi Tabatibi / Reuters)
“Egypt was not briefed on any of these moves and saw a direct threat to its position as the proxy through which other Arab countries interact with Israel, a position it has held since it became the first Arab country to normalize relations with Israel,” Mada Masr said.
The publication highlighted that until Wednesday’s call between Biden and el-Sisi, the U.S. administration had not communicated with the Egyptian presidency or the General Intelligence Service, institutions that usually manage Palestinian affairs and communication with Israel.
Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE are trying to play a role in reducing the escalation between Israel and Hamas, working to negotiate the release of the hostages Hamas took during its Oct. 7 assault on civilians in southern Israel.

'Israel allowed Hamas military capabilities to grow'

Ezzat Ibrahim, editor-in-chief of Al-Ahram Weekly and a member of the Egyptian Center for Strategic Studies advisory board, said that Israel’s approach is exacerbating problems for Egypt. He said he believed that it had been the Israeli plan since the 1980s "to weaken the Palestinian cause by supporting the emergence of Islamist movements as an alternative to the secular PLO, thereby undermining the Palestinian Authority and blocking the path to statehood.”
And now, “Expanding Hamas’ attacks to target and kill civilians and resorting to abductions, instead of limiting their actions to capturing a few military personnel in a specific operation, led to the Israeli decision to launch a comprehensive war against the movement and the threat to uproot it entirely from its roots in the Gaza Strip,” Ibrahim said. “The internal dialogue in Israel now talks about swallowing the Gaza Strip and expelling the Palestinians because of the actions of Hamas.”
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פגישת בנימין נתניהו וג'ו ביידן במלחמת חרבות ברזל
פגישת בנימין נתניהו וג'ו ביידן במלחמת חרבות ברזל
U.S. President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
(Photo: Evan Vucci / AP)
Ibrahim pointed to statements from Israeli security figures, including Maj. Gen. (ret.) Giora Eiland, a former head of the National Security Council, said, “Gaza is either without Hamas or without a people.”
Egypt no longer sees a rational or respectful partner in Israel, said Emad Gad, a former deputy of the Foreign Relations Committee in the Egyptian Parliament and a senior fellow at the Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies. “Israeli politicians and generals now talk about the 'mistake,' from their point of view, that they did not carry out a mass transfer deportation of the residents of the West Bank in 1967. We now fear a revival of Netanyahu’s national security adviser Giora Eiland’s proposed Palestinian state on Egyptian territory,” Gad said.
"I imagine that this is what President el-Sisi was referring to when he said yesterday that Egypt rejects the liquidation of the Palestinian cause and any relocation to Sinai. But I fear we will be faced with a fait accompli, and I find it inconceivable that Egypt will prevent fleeing civilians from entering by force,” he said.
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