Discussion of options to save Gaza refugees?
Hamas’s Enablers Should Take Gaza Refugees
Instead of flooding into Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, the displaced should go to Iran, Turkey and Qatar.
By Mark Dubowitz and Jonathan Schanzer, WSJ
Oct. 15, 2023 2:58 pm ET
Thousands of civilians in Gaza are about to endure another nightmare brought on by Hamas’s mass slaughter and kidnapping of Israelis and foreign nationals. Now that the border between Israel and Gaza is mostly under control, Israeli forces are preparing for a ground invasion to end Hamas’s brutal rule. The battle isn’t likely to end quickly.
Civilians are seeking to flee in advance of the fighting, and we shouldn’t expect Israel to take them in. With nowhere else to go, Egypt is the only possible escape route for Palestinians hoping to find refuge by land.
The U.S. has already started to discuss this with the government of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, according to recent reports. An Israeli military spokesman, when asked by reporters where displaced persons might go, suggested Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula is the logical location. He added, “Anyone who can get out, I would advise them to get out.” In an interview with Army Radio, Israel’s Education Minister Yoav Kisch also said that Palestinians seeking to flee Gaza should look to Egypt.
The Rafah crossing on the Egypt-Gaza border is open. The Israeli military issued a statement on Oct. 10 indicating that it was briefly closed. Egyptian officials later told Reuters that operations at Rafah had been disrupted by a nearby Israeli airstrike but had reopened shortly afterward, at least for humanitarian purposes. On Sunday, national security adviser Jake Sullivan said that Hamas has been preventing people from leaving through the Rafah crossing.
Egypt may not be thrilled about the role it is being asked to play. Egyptian security sources have said it wouldn’t permit a mass exodus of Palestinians from Gaza to Sinai. Cairo is deeply skeptical of Hamas, given the terrorist organization’s roots in the Muslim Brotherhood, which Egypt’s government views as a threat. Moreover, Cairo has consistently tried to distance itself from any responsibility for Gaza, which it occupied between 1948 and 1967.
In recent years, Egypt has played a crucial role in negotiating cease-fires between Israel and Hamas, but it has balked at doing much more than that. Notably, then President Donald Trump’s 2020 plan for Israeli-Palestinian peace had to be rewritten after Cairo objected to the idea of setting up industrial zones in Sinai to employ Gazans.
But Egypt doesn’t need to be the final destination for Palestinians looking to escape. Cairo should call for a special session of the Arab League to wrestle with the sensitive topic of Gazan refugees. Nations that have normalized relations with Israel—such as Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Morocco—and those that could in the future, like Saudi Arabia, might then discuss a novel solution: urging Hamas’s sponsors and enablers to take responsibility. Iran, Hamas’s chief financier and arms supplier, should absorb the majority of Gazans looking to flee. Talks over the summer already set the stage for direct flights between Tehran and Cairo. The regime has cynically boosted Palestinian jihadists for decades, which has brought misery and destruction not only in Gaza but also in the West Bank, Lebanon, Syria, Yemen and Iraq—anywhere terror proxies operate.
Turkey and Qatar are two other countries that have offered material and financial support to the mass-murdering Islamist group. Both nations maintain operational Hamas headquarters within their borders. Malaysia also has been a haven for Hamas in years past, with operatives dabbling in weapons development and other research that should never have been allowed. Algeria and Kuwait have cheered on Hamas’s violent and brutal tactics through government statements and state-owned media. Each of these countries should be called on to take ownership of their terrible decisions.
Though these regimes are likely to bristle at such demands, they shouldn’t be given a pass. What’s more, if Egypt were to offer its territory as a haven, it would have the moral high ground to urge these states to do their part.
Another move that should be taken is to deploy the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East to Sinai to help refugees. The agency already operates in Gaza and would presumably be ordered out during an evacuation. For decades, the agency has perpetuated the fiction of a Palestinian refugee problem and played a role in radicalizing generations of Palestinians. The agency, created to help refugees from the 1948 war, should have been disbanded decades ago. Yet it persists. Faced with a major conflict, it now has an opportunity to serve actual Palestinian refugees, not merely their descendants. It should retool its mission to handle the impending crisis.
The Middle East is on the precipice of significant change and tumult as a result of Hamas’s Iran-backed assault. World leaders will need to be flexible to handle the challenges that will emerge—and pay a portion of the bill they’ve long shirked.
Mr. Dubowitz is chief executive of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Mr. Schanzer, a former terrorism analyst for the U.S. Treasury Department, is senior vice president for research at FDD.