Egypt Eager to Help Israel Out of Gaza

CAIRO (IPS) – Egypt has presented a security initiative to support an Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, but wants to avoid being drawn into a “security trap.”

The initiative calls for a bilateral ceasefire agreement between the Palestinians and Israelis, and the resumption of negotiations aimed at implementing the stalled roadmap peace plan. Egypt would also train and equip Palestinian security forces, and send its own observers to help monitor compliance with the ceasefire.

Both Israel and the Palestinian Authority have reportedly endorsed the initiative.

“Egypt is trying to provide stability and order in the event of any Israeli pullout,” political analyst Gamal Abdel Gawad from the Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies (ACPSS) told IPS.

The initiative comes in response to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s proposed plan to evacuate all Israeli troops and settlers from the Gaza Strip. The four-stage pullout would dismantle 21 settlements that are home to 7,500 Jewish settlers living amongst 1.3 million Palestinians. The enclaves incur enormous security expenses and are frequently attacked by Palestinian militants.

“The plan will enable us to preserve national and security interests and extract Israel from the dangerous diplomatic deadlock,” Sharon said in remarks broadcast on Israeli television.

The Israeli cabinet has twice voted down the pullout plan. Sharon has threatened to sack uncooperative cabinet ministers in order to ensure its approval.

He has also turned to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak for support.

While the two leaders rarely see eye to eye, Mubarak has said he would welcome any withdrawal from Gaza provided it does not interfere with the implementation of the roadmap.

The Bush administration’s roadmap peace plan envisions the establishment of an autonomous Palestinian state by 2005. Many Arabs fear Israel will withdraw from Gaza only to solidify its position in the West Bank.

“Egypt is committed to take any role to facilitate the implementation of the roadmap, but not to facilitate Sharon’s plan, which it believes is aimed at killing the roadmap,” says Hassan Nafaa, chairman of the political science department at Cairo University.

Palestinian militant organizations could try to fill the power vacuum once Israeli forces withdraw, he said. Egypt’s security plan aims at boosting the effectiveness of the Palestinian Authority’s security apparatus to ensure a smooth transition.

“If Sharon decides to withdraw there might be a civil war between the Palestinian factions and if this should take place, Israel would have the pretext it needs to intervene again militarily,” Nafaa told IPS.

The state-run Middle East News Agency (MENA) quoted official sources as saying that as part of the Egyptian initiative, 150 to 200 Egyptian security officials will spend six months in Gaza training a 30,000 strong Palestinian security force.

Under the plan the officers will remain after the Israeli pullout to support international experts and observers in a peacekeeping role.

Egypt will also help rebuild police stations and jails in Gaza, as well as provide the Palestinian security forces with communications equipment, police vehicles and light weapons, the agency said.

No Egyptian troops will be deployed in Gaza, which Egypt administered before the territory was seized by Israel during the war in 1967.

“Egypt wants to avoid the risk of having its own troops shooting at Palestinians or be shot at by Palestinians as this is politically unacceptable,” said Abdel Gawad.

Author: Devin Powell

Devin Powell writes for the Inside Science News Service.