Moshe Arens
Haaretz (Opinion)
June 28, 2011 - 12:00am

It may well turn out that one of the positive outcomes of the mass disturbances against the Mubarak government in Tahrir Square will be the change in the policy of the new government in Cairo toward the Gaza Strip.

Permitting free passage of Gazans into Egypt and the entry of goods from Egypt into Gaza has brought the Gaza Strip closer to Egypt and has freed Israel from some of the responsibility it had retained for the Palestinian population of Gaza even after the withdrawal of the Israel Defense Forces more than five years ago. Some of that responsibility is now shifting to Egypt, and there would seem to be no need for repetitions of the Mavi Marmara episode of a few months ago. It is the Egyptians who now should have the responsibility for assuring that supplies can reach the population in Gaza.

This is only as it should be. It is poetic justice. The Gaza Strip and the unfortunate fate of the one and half million Palestinians squeezed into that tiny sliver of coastal land is an Egyptian creation, the direct result of the attempt by Egyptian troops to wipe out the newborn State of Israel in May 1948. The Egyptian army was on its way to Tel Aviv but was beaten back by the tiny Israeli army. By the end of 1948 the Egyptians found themselves in dire straits - one brigade encircled in the Faluja pocket, and the rest of the Egyptian army, in what is now the Gaza Strip, cut off from their home bases by Israeli troops commanded by Yigal Allon that had entered Sinai.

In the armistice negotiations, brokered by Ralph Bunche of the United Nations, the Egyptian representatives rejected Israel's demand that their army return to Egypt, insisting that they remain in the Gaza Strip. According to the agreement signed in Rhodes, in February 1949, the Egyptians were to retain control of the Strip, and they did so until June 1967, with the exception of the duration of the Sinai Campaign of 1956 and a few months after.

Why should control of the Gaza Strip not now be returned to Egypt? It is a responsibility they should rightly shoulder. Whether that arrangement will be permanent will be for them to decide. Ever since the Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip, Israel has been justifiably concerned about the armory of rockets and other weapons the Hamas terrorists have been amassing, weapons that are intended to target Israeli civilians. That has been the justification for the Israeli blockade of the Gaza coast.

Can this mission be entrusted to the Egyptians? It is more than likely that the Egyptians as well would not like to see the importation of weapons to Hamas in Gaza, whether overland, by tunnel or by sea.

Whether their control of this arms smuggling would be effective is not clear at this time. For Israel, however, it is a risk worth taking, so as to free ourselves from the burden of continuing this "occupation." Should it turn out that Egypt does not succeed in preventing the import of weapons to Hamas in Gaza, Israeli control efforts can be restored. In view of the proximity of the Gaza Strip and its small size, effective action to destroy the Hamas stockpile of weapons will always remain a possibility.

In any case it should be made clear that from now on Egypt is responsible for preventing the smuggling of arms into the Gaza Strip, and will be held accountable for terror attacks originating in Gaza with smuggled weapons.

Egyptian control over the Gaza Strip could have some significant ancillary benefits. With Gaza under Egyptian control, the generally accepted paradigm of the "solution" to the Palestinian problem being the "two-state" solution may in time be seen in a different light. The problems of the Palestinians living in Judea and Samaria and of those living in the Gaza Strip, separated by an expanse of territory under Israeli sovereignty, is likely in time to be viewed differently by the world in general, by the Arab world in particular, by Israel and by the Palestinian populations themselves. It could bring about a paradigm shift that would benefit us all.


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