On August 31, speaking in Ramallah to members of the Palestinian Authority Fatah party that governs the West Bank, President Mahmoud Abbas, according to a Times of Israel report, made a surprising admission that in a recent meeting with an Egyptian official he had been offered a 617 square-mile stretch of land in the Sinai Peninsula.
The Palestinian Ma’an news service reported Abbas as admitting, “[The Egyptians] are prepared to receive all the refugees, [saying] ‘let’s end the refugee story’... A senior leader in Egypt said: ‘a refuge must be found for the Palestinians and we have all this open land.’ This was said to me personally. But it’s illogical for the problem to be solved at Egypt’s expense. We won’t have it.” The Israel Today newspaper reported that, “According to sources privy to the details of the proposal, Abbas has rejected the initiative despite substantial Egyptian pressure to accept it.”
On September 8, following an item on Israel Army Radio highlighting the proposal, and despite Abbas himself having been quoted by his own Palestinian news agency as having apparently acknowledged the existence of an Egyptian offer, officials rushed to deny the existence of such a proposal.
“The Egyptian and Palestinian leaderships have unified their stance on the establishment of a Palestinian state on the lands occupied in 1967 and Jerusalem as its capital; President Mahmoud Abbas has updated President Sisi on the future vision to reach this goal,” said Tayeb Abdel Rehim, of the Palestinian presidential office.
An Israeli government spokesperson, contacted by FoxNews.com, was also skeptical about any serious offer having been made, suggesting that “Both Abbas and al-Sisi said it never happened, and the Egyptian foreign minister also said it never happened.” There was no-one available for comment on the Palestinian side.
But a number of Israeli politicians, including the former Shin Bet intelligence service head Yaakov Peri of the centrist Yesh Atid party, now Minster of Science and Technology, reacted with cautious optimism to the idea. “There are elements that are worth discussing despite Abbas's refusal,” Peri said. “This could solve problems that weren't given a response in talks between Israel and the Palestinians so far.”
"The solution to the Palestinian problem must be regional and cannot fall on Israel's shoulders alone," Ayelet Sheked of the right-wing Jewish Home party opined.
On the face of it, it might appear to be a genuine solution to the Israel-Palestine arguments over tiny parcels of land on the West Bank. The alleged Egyptian offer reportedly comes with the proviso that the Sinai land will be demilitarized and annexed to Gaza on the condition that Gaza will be governed by the Palestinian Authority, and not the terrorist regime of Hamas that recent fought a bloody 52-day war with Israel.
“Egypt’s offer was, of course, not merely aimed at finally doing the right thing by the refugees” Jonathan Tobin of Commentary magazine noted. “The Hamas stronghold in Gaza is a threat to the Egyptian military government in Cairo because of its alliance with the Muslim Brotherhood. They also recognize how toxic the situation in Gaza—where hundreds of thousands of the descendants of the refugees live—and the need to get these people out of a bad situation that is only made worse by their exploitation by the Hamas terrorist government of the strip.”
“Resettling the refugees could be the first step in neutralizing Hamas as well as in reforming the political culture of the Palestinians to the point where it might be possible for them to start thinking about making peace instead of sticking to demands for a return to Israel,” Tobin added.
Adding to the mixed messages, a report in Monday's Cairo Post indicated that as recently as August 23 Abbas, referring to the notion of a land swap involving Sinai, had told Egyptian [TV] anchorman Ahmed Moussa that, "This is known as [the] Giora Eiland project and we heard in Egypt in the last time... but we rejected it."
In 2010 Israeli Maj. Gen (res.) Giora Eiland published a report entitled ‘Regional Alternatives to the Two-State Solution’, in which he suggested that any land given by Egypt to the Palestinians would be compensated by land in the Negev desert given to Egypt by Israel. For their part, “In return for this addition to Gaza, the Palestinians will relinquish 12 percent of the West Bank, which will be annexed to Israel,” Eiland suggested.
The 2010 report concluded that “Gaza in its current size is not viable. It does not have the minimal territory to maintain a stable economy... The enlargement of Gaza according to the presented outline gives it another 24 km of shoreline. That entails territorial waters of nine miles and reasonable chances to find natural gas in this domain. A territorial supplement for Gaza... would enable the building of a large international port (on the western side of the territory), an international airport at a range of [12 – 15 miles] from the Israeli border, and, most importantly, a new city that could host a million residents.”