By Chase Lacy
By Chase Lacy
Rabat – Time has not been kind to Palestinians since the establishment of Israel in 1948.
Al-Nakba (the catastrophe) in May 1948 marked the expulsion of approximately 750,000 Palestinians from their homes. The disaster worsened with the events of al-Naksa (the setback) when Israel annexed the West Bank and East Jerusalem in 1967.
Israel disregarded UN Resolution 242, ratified in 1967, which called for the “full withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories taken in the recent conflict.” Instead, Israel pursued policies from settlement building, persecution, arrests, and disproportionate violence, to even the restriction of water rights and mass punishments.
Palestinians continue to make their voices heard and resist flagrant and nefarious Israeli violations of UN resolutions, international law, and human rights. However, their resistance is diminished when Arab and Muslim countries’ supportive rhetoric contradicts their actions.
These countries often cooperate with Israel politically or economically, enabling Israel’s continued violations of human rights and funding their occupation. Even in the absence of Israeli collusion, Arab policies, such as Lebanon’s, often force Palestinians to live in unbearable conditions.
Arab states have a precarious past with Israel, having fought multiple wars with their sworn enemy throughout the latter half of the 20th century.
Attitudes regarding Israel are changing due to hegemonic ambitions, internal security concerns, and power. Sunni states also cooperate with Israel against the “Shia axis,” which includes Iran, Syria, Hezbollah, Shia militias, and other proxies. The solution for these states, at the expense of Palestinians, is alignment with Israel.
Morocco has been one of the few countries that has not contradicted its pro-Palestinian rhetoric.
The political climate has changed, and traditional allies have gradually moved away from their Palestinian brethren. Gravely, Palestinians’ pain, suffering, and blood is not just on the hands of Israel, but on the Arab states as well.
This is the first in a 5-part opinion series that will evaluate the conduct of MENA region states in upholding their commitments to Palestine, beginning with Egypt.
The Egyptian case
Egypt was once the most vital component of Arab resistance against the Israeli occupation of Palestine. Since 1948, Egypt, with the Arab coalition, fought four wars against Israel. At one time peace seemed inconceivable between the Egyptians and Israelis. The notion of a developing alliance seemed practically impossible.
The 1948 Arab-Israeli War pitted Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, and Jordan against Israel. The only victory for the Arabs in this war was partial at best: Jordanian gains in Jerusalem and Egyptian control of Gaza.
Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser precipitated the 1956 Suez crisis by nationalizing the Suez Canal. In response Britain, France, and Israel attacked Egypt. Egypt suffered tremendous losses, however US pressure led to the withdrawal of the tripartite force. The war marked the ascendency of Nasser to hero status in the Arab world.
The 6-Day War of 1967 was a major pivotal point. An Israeli blitzkrieg devastated Egypt, Syria, and Jordan’s air forces in a matter of hours. Israel annexed the Golan Heights, the West Bank, East Jerusalem, Gaza, and the Sinai Peninsula.
The 1973 war witnessed a joint Egyptian-Syrian attack on Israel during Yom Kippur, a Jewish holy day. The Arab forces were initially successful, but were nonetheless pushed back by the Israelis, who ultimately overcame the Arab alliance. Though Israel defeated Egypt and Syria, the war encouraged Israel to negotiate with Egypt.
Egypt’s primary focus since 1967 was to recover the Sinai. This is evidenced by the fact that Egypt was willing to downgrade the Palestinian issue until the Sinai was returned. Egypt and Israel have maintained a ‘cold peace’ for decades after signing a peace agreement in 1979.
Chokehold on Gaza
The relationship between Egypt and Israel has become increasingly cooperative since the 2006 takeover of Hamas in Gaza.
Egypt accuses Hamas of having links to the Muslim Brotherhood. The Brotherhood seeks to transform Egypt into an Islamic state. The group for decades has maintained massive followings through community outreach programs and charitable operations. Over time their popularity has earned them power but also resulted in persecution. The Brotherhood’s ideas of Islamic and democratic governance threaten the secular dictatorships that have successively ruled Egypt.
Since 2006, Egypt has taken punitive measures against Palestinians, justifying these actions as maneuvering against Hamas. Egypt continues to collude with Israel by enforcing a blockade on Gaza.
Israel, in response to the 2006 Hamas take over, cut off land, air, and sea access to Gaza. Egypt has a 12-kilometer border with the coastal enclave and has been pivotal in ensuring the siege. The restriction of people and goods has severely crippled Gaza, to the extent that the UN claims Gaza will be uninhabitable by 2020.
Egypt has followed the policy of economic deprivation, banning imports and exports to and from Gaza. As a result of the blockade, no medical supplies, construction materials, or other necessities may enter the coastal enclave without Israeli or Egyptian approval.
Smuggling tunnels under the Egypt-Gaza border became increasingly prevalent to bring in goods and necessities. To this day these routes remain vital to the survival of Palestinians in Gaza.
Accordingly, Egypt, with US and Israeli financial assistance, erected a wall that extends deep underground along the 12-kilometer border.
Egypt also floods tunnels with sea water, as it did in a crackdown in late 2015. Not only is this further deteriorating a Gazan lifeline, but it is spoiling the few and delicate Gazan fresh water sources.
Egypt under President Mubarak (ousted during the 2011 Arab Spring) closed the Rafah border crossing in 2007, though it reopened for Mohammed Morsi’s brief rule in 2012-2013.
Since the coup d’état that brought Abdel Fattah El-Sisi to power in July 2013, the crossing has been closed with the exception of sporadic openings.
The few Palestinians that Egypt allows to leave Gaza are permitted for humanitarian reasons, university, ornear-expired residency permits in third countries. However, these reasons do not guarantee permission to leave Gaza.
El-Sisi conveniently announced that he would open the Rafah border for the Muslim month of prayer and fasting, Ramadan. The announcement came after international attention had refocused on Gaza.
Since March 30th, Gazans have demonstrated at the Israeli border, demanding the right of return to their pre-1948 homes. At least 120 Gazans have been killed and more than 13,000 wounded since the protests began.
Diplomatic resurgence and lucrative deals
Egyptian-Israeli relations have steadily improved during the El-Sisi years. In 2015, Israel reopened its embassy in Cairo. The same year Egypt voted in favor of Israel becoming a member of the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space Affairs (notably the first time Egypt has ever voted in favor of Israel at the UN).
Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry visited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s personal home in Jerusalem in 2016. Shortly after, Egypt reinstated its ambassador to Tel Aviv.
Last year, El-Sisi and Netanyahu reportedly met prior to the UN General Assembly in New York. El-Sisi claims it was to discuss reviving the Palestinian-Israeli talks.
This year a deal worth USD 15 Billion was signed for the export of natural gas from Israel to Egypt. US-based Noble Energy and Israel’s Delek Drilling will supply 83 billion cubic yards of natural gas over a 10 year period from Israel’s Tamar and Leviathan fields to Egypt’s Dolphinus Holdings.
Egypt, in turn, plans to liquify the natural gas and export it to Europe. Egypt, until 2014, was a net exporter of gas; however, domestic needs have outpaced supply.
In the Sinai, Egypt has been battling insurgent groups with links to ISIS. Egypt has used these security issues as an excuse to further choke off Gaza.
Israel, with similar security concerns, has allowed Egypt to bring more troops and weapons into the Sinai beyond the scope of the peace agreement.
There have also been many unconfirmed reports of Israel carrying out drone strikes with Egyptian approval in the Sinai. US Senator Cardin declined to discuss details regarding Israeli military action in Egyptian territory, but said, “Israel does not want the bad stuff that is happening in the Egyptian Sinai to get into Israel.”
In 2016, an anonymous former senior Israeli official noted that Israel has conducted strikes for years in the Sinai with the Egyptian government’s blessing.
Though the Egypt-Israel relationship does not pretend to be a friendship, it is seen as mutually beneficial. The military cooperation in the Sinai is indicative of how the ‘cold peace’ is evolving.
Egypt, in the name of combatting Hamas or insurgent groups, strangles the people of Gaza. Egypt’s economic ties with Israel help fund Israeli oppression and the occupation of Palestine.
Part 2 will investigate the nature of the Gulf states’ relationship with Israel.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Morocco World News’ editorial views.
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