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Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
Strategic Alliances for a Secure, Connected, and Prosperous Region

Developing Northern Sinai – A New Diplomatic Paradigm

Filed under: Egypt, Israel
Publication: Jerusalem Issue Briefs

Developing Northern Sinai – A New Diplomatic Paradigm
Nighttime view of northern Egypt and the Sinai Peninsula

Institute for Contemporary Affairs

Founded jointly with the Wechsler Family Foundation

Vol. 18, No. 26

Northern Sinai

The withdrawal of PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas from the peace process, his actions against the Hamas leadership, the worsening of the economic situation in Gaza to the point of a humanitarian crisis, the escalation of military confrontation at the Gaza border, and the possibility of a descent into war have created a new crisis situation in Gaza. A new response is required that is different from what already exists. It should be based upon a new paradigm that is primarily supported by an element external to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but which has a direct and decisive influence upon it.

In other words, Egypt.

Gaza poses an especially difficult dilemma for the international community. The World Bank’s report on September 27, 2018 to a meeting of Gaza donors, held at the United Nations by the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee, concluded that the Gaza economy was “collapsing” and was in “free fall.” Water shortages are becoming more acute and reliable sources of electricity remain a problem. Reversing these trends is not simple considering that since 2007, the Gaza Strip has been ruled by Hamas, which rightly has been defined as an international terrorist organization by the U.S., the European Union and Israel. Its parent organization, the Muslim Brotherhood, is regarded the same way by Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.

Employing rockets and attack tunnels, Hamas has involved itself in at least three wars with Israel and multiple strikes against Israeli population centers. The question that needs to be answered is how the economic situation in Gaza can be alleviated without strengthening the military capabilities of Hamas, when the Gaza authorities cannot be relied upon to prevent the diversion of resources for military purposes. There is no reason to doubt that any improvements in Gaza’s infrastructure, such as new port construction, will lead to the movement of increased quantities of weaponry into the Hamas arsenal.

Continuing failure to address the Gaza problem amounts to a time bomb, not only for Israel but for others as well. Hamas has had intermittent cooperation with the Islamic State (or Daish) in Northern Sinai, making it harder for the Egyptian military to vanquish this threat, which could easily be exported to the heartland of Egypt and to Cairo itself. Full-scale military escalation could lead to new waves of refugees across the Mediterranean. Already, the traditional routes for exiting the Middle East, like Jordan and Turkey, have closed down, making Egypt into a new conduit for migrants.

The New Paradigm

This new paradigm is based upon providing solutions to the economic and humanitarian deprivation in Gaza (“the siege”) in the area of northern Sinai, while strictly maintaining Egyptian sovereignty and without infringing upon it in any way. While this area is adjacent to the Gaza Strip, it is outside the control of Hamas. At the same time, massive economic aid should be supplied to Egypt through the establishment of a new consortium based upon the United States and the Gulf States.

This international aid should be invested in the construction and development of a series of initiatives and large infrastructural projects for tourism and the economy in northern Sinai, with an emphasis upon the area of El Arish. These will be constructed mainly by Egyptian workers, most of whom will come from among the Bedouin of northern Sinai, giving them the opportunity to work and improve their economic situation instead of joining ISIS and carrying out terrorist acts against the Egyptian state. They will be joined by workers from the Gaza Strip, whose economic situation will be improved and will be included in the infrastructural and tourist work.

Developing Northern Sinai

The objective is to develop the area of northern Sinai, with an emphasis upon the city of El Arish, which will facilitate infrastructural and economic solutions for the benefit of the residents of the Gaza Strip.

Port of El Arish
Current port of El Arish (Egyptian Port Authority)

These solutions include:

  • Construction of a deep-water port at the site of the existing port at El Arish, allowing the import and export of goods to Gaza.
  • Construction of an international airport near El Arish that would allow the movement of passengers, also from the Gaza Strip.
  • Construction of a power station to generate electricity from natural gas from Egyptian gas fields in the Mediterranean Sea, supplying enough electricity to meet the total demand of Gaza residents.
  • Construction of two water desalination installations to provide enough water for the needs of the Gaza Strip.
  • Building a railroad track from El Arish to Gaza, which would be connected to the railroad from El Arish to Cairo.
  • Construction of hotels and a resort on the shores of Lake Bardawil, turning it into an international tourist spot similar to Sharm El-Sheikh.
  • Construction of new residential buildings in the area of El Arish and northern Sinai.

These economic and tourist development projects would be carried out under the responsibility of the Egyptian government, and the residents of Gaza would have access and usage of them, under Egyptian security supervision and in accordance with Egyptian regulations.