Egypt’s position regarding the Palestinian-Israeli conflict has always been based on firm principles and solid grounds. Current conditions, and the gibberish some people have been spreading recently regarding resettling Palestinians in the Sinai, call for a reminder of that.
The idea of land for peace is as old as the Palestinian question itself. Israel reportedly suggested it to the late Egyptian President Anwar Sadat during peace negotiations, and offered part of the Negev desert if Egypt relinquished parts of the Sinai. Sadat agreed, provided that he was allowed to choose the alternative land. The shrewd president chose Eilat, the only Israeli port on the Red Sea. Predictably, the Israelis rejected the condition.
Attempts continued during the era of President Hosni Mubarak, who refused even to discuss the idea despite all temptations and pressures. But we do not know what happened during the Muslim Brotherhood’s one-year rule.
“The current leadership, based on firm ethical principles, rejects the idea of a land exchange with Israel”
There is evidence that the Brotherhood offered some concessions or commitments, probably in line with the document of Giora Eiland, Israel’s national security adviser in early 2010. The document included a suggestion offered by the US administration to Arab countries to improve their relations with Israel in exchange for the latter’s return of some lands.
Ostensibly, it may look like a loss for Israel because both the Palestinians and Israelis would have to agree to small, densely populated states. Moreover, they would be surrounded by large countries with relatively small populations. The only thing Arab countries have and Israel desperately needs is land, so if these countries relinquished small portions, a lot of improvement could be achieved for both states.
Eiland’s document stipulated that Egypt would relinquish to Gaza areas on the Mediterranean coast from Rafah in the west to Arish, and a strip of land west of Kerem Shalom extending along the Israeli border with Egypt. So the Gaza Strip would increase in size from 365 to more than 1,000 sq. km. In exchange for the land relinquished to Palestine by Egypt, the latter would get the southwestern area of the Negev from Israel, which is about 720 sq. km.
The document tried to show the benefits that Egypt would reap from the land exchange with Israel, and present them as “rewards,” claiming that in return for the 720 sq. km Egypt would give to the Palestinians — not to Israel — Egypt would get many benefits that may solve some of its problems.
The first reward would be to give Egypt a land passage across the Negev to connect it to Jordan. The second would be the building of a network of highways linking the new airport in Gaza, the new port on the Mediterranean and the land passage between Egypt and Jordan. Moreover, oil pipes would be constructed across the passage to Jordan, and from there to Iraq, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries.
This link would bring great economic benefits, including Egyptian customs collecting their share of the transit and movement between Jordan, Iraq and the Gulf on one side, and the Gaza port on the other.
Another reward concerned water. The documented noted that Egypt lacks water resources and the problem is worsening. It would be solved by huge investments, offered to Egypt by the World Bank, in water desalination and advanced technology, and the building of a nuclear reactor to generate electricity.
The last reward concerned the military presence in the Sinai, which was restricted by the peace accord between Egypt and Israel. The document stated that Egypt would be allowed to make changes to the accord’s military annex. All these rewards and more may have been subject to understandings between Israel and the Brotherhood. But Egypt’s current leadership, based on firm ethical principles, rejects the idea of a land exchange with Israel.