Politics, Analysis, Middle East

ANALYSIS - 'Deal of Century' and the plan to relocate Palestinians

Though plans to move Palestinians from Gaza have existed for decades, their implementation may have global impacts

Gokhan Bozbas  | 28.01.2020 - Update : 28.01.2020
ANALYSIS - 'Deal of Century' and the plan to relocate Palestinians


The Israeli authorities have made it a tradition to bomb Gaza at least once a month. Most recently, their F-16 jets have bombed the south of Gaza under the pretense of retaliation. On the other hand, it goes without saying that Israel constantly does everything in its power to increase pressure on Gaza to make it uninhabitable to the local people.

In addition to the systematic embargo in effect since 2006, while it enforces control and limits movement across the Rafah Border Crossing, it also demolished all existing tunnels from the enclave. At this point, bombing the already strained region strengthens claims that Israel now aims to drive off the local people.

While today it is Israeli experts and politicians who broach the idea of relocating Gazans to the Sinai Peninsula, the issue was first proposed to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Aug. 8, 2014, by the leader and government of an Arab nation.

Since its establishment as a state, Israel has constantly been making moves to claim Gaza as well as unlawfully occupy Palestinian lands. The first appearance of Gaza on the agenda was actually in 1956 when Igor Ayland proposed that its inhabitants be relocated to a region in the Sinai Peninsula. Remaining on the agenda until the present day, this offer was once again opened to international debate when Trump became president of the U.S. and has become a subject of debate more in recent years since Abdel Fattah al-Sisi seizing power through a coup in Egypt. This was because accepting the Palestinians in the Sinai was a demand attached to Sisi's ascension to power.

The plot to relocate Palestinians does not appear to be an easy and readily-agreeable possibility. For it to materialize, first, an extreme right government must emerge from the elections in Israel.

The proposal to relocate Gazans to the Sinai Peninsula, so far discussed by Israeli experts and politicians, was first suggested to Mahmoud Abbas, by an Arab state and leader on Aug. 8, 2014. Though the issue appeared to have been closed with Abbas's rejection, it now appears that this was only true for Palestine's agenda and that it is just now being discussed in regional countries. As such, in February 2017 in the Jordanian town of Aqaba, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, King Abdullah II of Jordan and Egyptian President Sisi on the relocation of Palestinians to the Sinai. An international agenda is being pushed as Israel leaks these talks to the press.

For the plan to be put into motion, Israel needs to form an official alliance with Egypt and regional actors must acknowledge their inability to solve the Palestinian issue. The issue of relocating Gazans to the Sinai Peninsula has become an issue of debate in the U.S. since Trump became president. His claim to bring peace to the Middle East aside, his policies since he became president seem certain to cause serious injury rather than bring peace. The decision by Trump to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel while ignoring the legitimate rights of Palestinians in international law was seen by international actors as direct support for Israel's suppression policies on Palestinians. It is known that most close colleagues of Trump, who at every chance emphasizes his support for Israel, back Jewish extremists and are Jewish themselves. While the most prominent figure among these is his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, David M. Friedman -- a Jewish advisor of Trump -- was appointed ambassador to Israel. Moreover, the number of Jewish people among the ministers and advisors he appointed and dismissed are worthy of note.

That Trump invited the leaders of Jewish settlers, whom the U.S. recognized as illegal within international law, to his oath-taking ceremony during his presidency is another important indicator of his support for Israel. Another issue in which international law is neglected is the refugees' right to return. Proposing to change the legal definition of Palestinian refugees, Kushner, who is at the same time Trump's son-in-law and chief advisor, sought to change their international legal status. Any change in the definition of refugee will take away almost all the rights of Palestinians including their right to return.
When evaluated in terms of the countries in the region, it appears that some events, especially those that took place in recent years, have brought Jordan and Egypt closer to this idea.

It appears that Egypt has received close support from Israel and the world Jewish lobby, in terms of the acceptance of the system that was built, especially after the 2013 coup, in the international arena. It is obvious that the Egyptian administration is paying a price for this support by backing this idea. On the other hand, with the Arab Spring, Jordan entered a very difficult process. Along with the burden on the country's economy placed by migrants from other countries in the region, the economic problems of the country leave the administration in a difficult situation. In this regard, it is known that King Abdullah receives significant aid from the U.S. and other Western countries with the support of Jewish lobbies to relieve the country's economy. As the price of all this, it is said that King Abdullah accepted the idea of relocating Gazans.

The scenario of relocating of Palestinians does not seem, in our opinion, an easy and immediately acceptable possibility. For this to happen, firstly, an extreme right government must emerge from the elections in Israel. Additionally, Israel has to form an official alliance with Egypt, and subsequently, the actors in the region must acknowledge their weakness in solving the Palestinian issue. At this point, when we look at the countries of the region, even though they do not express this openly, the fact that they are all struggling with their own internal problems certainly encourages the Zionist regime. Another thing that Israel is aiming for that will serve its own purposes is to especially weaken Gaza economically and force its inhabitants to migrate. In this regard, it is a very important development that one of the most recent studies reveals that one in four young people living in Gaza wants to live somewhere outside the enclave.

Even though all the current conditions and the situation seem in favor of Israel, there are also many unknown dark spots waiting for Tel Aviv. The possibility of a move towards relocation backfiring is fairly high. Such an attempt will mark the failure of all Israeli strategies to seek a peaceful solution before the international public. Again, when such a move is initiated, pressure from the Arab and Islamic world will occur not only on Israel but on Egypt as well and can force Egypt to take a step back. This would again mark an important defeat for Israel before international public opinion.

In addition to the possibility of Israel's use of force to ensure the relocation of Palestinians living in Gaza to the Sinai Peninsula, there is also a possibility of achieving this peacefully. However, this is dependent on the acceptance of Arab countries in the region. From this end, it is not a coincidence that Trump's son-in-law and chief advisor David Kushner visited the countries of the region one by one, especially on the "Deal of the Century," in 2019. However, the fact is that many of these countries are struggling with civil wars and conflicts preventing them from prioritizing the Palestinian issue. It is also highly probable that if their regimes, many of which are on thin ice, take such a chance, this will heat up the streets in their own countries.

Finally, we should also mention that the plan to relocate Gazans is very likely to fail. In fact, during the occupation that has been going on for over 70 years, projects for exiling the Palestinians have never been out of the question. However, the implementation of such a project in the near future is more likely to trigger a global earthquake than a regional one. This frightens many international actors, the U.S. in particular. In spite of this, Israel's plan and intention to this end stand before us as a reality. Therefore, the peoples of the region and their countries should be more careful about the issue.

When looked at carefully, it will be immediately understood that what Trump calls the "Deal of the Century" is not an issue brought up by Republicans in the U.S. for the first time. In 2002, then-National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice introduced the Greater Middle East Project and said a new world order existed under this project. She mentioned many issues that we are currently going through, from the division of Sudan and Yemen to the Syrian civil war. For this reason, many issues that are actually addressed as the "Deal of the Century" will come/be brought to our attention 10 years from now. Therefore, the countries of the region should be more attentive today.

As a result, the fact that Israel is intensifying its pressure and military operations in the region does not mean the people living there will have increasingly difficult days -- in fact, it means that more difficult and troubled days are awaiting the region in general. Although Israel does not currently have the social and political environment in place to realize a relocation in the near future, it is investing in persuading regional countries on Gazans' future migration by taking advantage of these countries' circumstances in the current chaotic environment. Actually, the motive behind its increasing, unprovoked pressure on Gaza and its constant bombardment of the region is its intention to invest in the future.

[Dr. Gokhan Bozbas is an academic member of Necmettin Erbakan University and the writer of the book "Mısır'da Toplum ve Siyaset" [Society and Politics in Egypt]]

*Translated by Dilan Pamuk

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