It is important to understand that the Sinai plan is not simply evidence of wishful thinking by an inexperienced or deluded Trump administration. All the signs are that it has enjoyed vigorous support from the Washington policy establishment for more than a decade.
In fact, four years ago, when Barack Obama was firmly ensconced in the White House, Middle East Eye charted the course of attempts by Israel and the US to arm-twist a succession of Egyptian leaders into opening Sinai to Gaza's Palestinians.
This has been a key Israeli ambition since it pulled several thousand settlers out of Gaza in the so-called disengagement of 2005 and claimed afterwards -- falsely -- that the enclave's occupation was over.
Washington has reportedly been on board since 2007, when the Islamist faction Hamas took control of Gaza, ousting the Fatah movement of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. It was then that Israel, backed by the US, intensified a blockade that has destroyed Gaza's economy and prevented key goods from entering.
The advantages of the Sinai plan are self-evident to Israel and the US. It would:
- Make permanent the territorial division between Gaza and the West Bank, and the ideological split between the rival factions of Fatah and Hamas;
- Downgrade Gaza from a diplomatic issue to a humanitarian one;
- Gradually lead to the establishment of a de facto Palestinian statelet in Sinai and Gaza, mostly outside the borders of historic Palestine;
- Encourage the eventual settlement of potentially millions of Palestinian refugees in Egyptian territory, stripping them of their right in international law to return to their homes, now in Israel;
- Weaken the claims of Abbas and his Palestinian Authority, located in the West Bank, to represent the Palestinian cause and undermine their moves to win recognition of statehood at the United Nations;
- Lift opprobrium from Israel by shifting responsibility for repressing Gaza's Palestinians to Egypt and the wider Arab world.
In summer 2014, Israel's media reported that, with Washington's blessing, Israeli officials had been working on a plan dubbed "Greater Gaza" that would attach the enclave to a large slice of northern Sinai. The reports suggested that Israel had made headway with Cairo on the idea.
Egyptian and Palestinians officials publicly responded to the leaks by denouncing the plan as "fabricated." But, whether Cairo was privately receptive or not, it provided yet further confirmation of a decade-long Israeli strategy in Gaza.
At around the same time, an Arab newspaper interviewed a former anonymous official close to Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian president ousted in 2011. He said Egypt had come under concerted pressure from 2007 onwards to annex Gaza to northern Sinai, after Hamas took control of the enclave following Palestinian elections.
Five years later, according to the same source, Mohamed Morsi, who led a short-lived Muslim Brotherhood government, sent a delegation to Washington where the Americans proposed that "Egypt cede a third of the Sinai to Gaza in a two-stage process spanning four to five years."
And since 2014, it appears, Morsi's successor, General Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi, has faced similar lobbying.Carrots and sticks
Suspicions that Sisi might have been close to capitulating four years ago were fuelled at that time by Abbas himself. In an interview on Egyptian TV, he said Israel's Sinai plan had been "unfortunately accepted by some here [in Egypt]. Don't ask me more about that. We abolished it."
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