Netanyahu proposed settling Palestinians in Sinai, Mubarak says

Netanyahu proposed settling Palestinians in Sinai, Mubarak says

Former Egyptian president says he rejected PM’s idea outright; remarks follow report on international bid to have Egypt take in Palestinians in 1983

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak meet in Cairo, July 2010 (Moshe Milner/Government Press Office/Flash90)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak meet in Cairo, July 2010 (Moshe Milner/Government Press Office/Flash90)

Former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak said on Wednesday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had proposed settling Palestinians in the Sinai peninsula as part of a peace deal-related land swap in 2010.

Mubarak said he rejected the idea outright.

“In 2010, the prime minister of Israel proposed to me that Palestinians be settled in part of the territory of Sinai within [the framework] of a land swap. I immediately emphasized to him at that meeting that I’m not even willing to listen to those kinds of proposals in this connection,” Mubarak said, in comments posted on Facebook.


On Monday, Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry rejected calls by Likud lawmaker Gila Gamliel to use the Sinai for a Palestinian state and said Egypt had communicated its position on the issue to the Israeli ambassador in Cairo.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry speaks during a meeting with his Russian counterpart in Moscow on August 21, 2017. AFP/Alexander NEMENOV)

Mubarak’s comments were published in response to a report by the BBC’s Arabic Service on Wednesday saying that he had agreed to resettle Palestinian refugees on Egyptian soil in 1983, although only within the context of a solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict.

It was important, he said, to “clarify the following historical facts to the Egyptian people.

“There is absolutely no truth to any claims of Egypt’s acceptance, or my acceptance, of resettling Palestinians in Egypt, specifically those who were in Lebanon at that time,” Mubarak added, according to a translation by Middle East Monitor.

“Some parties tried to convince me to settle some of the Palestinians who were in Lebanon at the time in Egypt, which I absolutely refused, along with attempts and subsequent efforts to either settle Palestinians in Egypt or… in part of the Sinai territories through a suggestion of land exchanges that the Israeli prime minister at that time proposed,” he said.

“I immediately confirmed to him in the meeting that I was not even ready to listen to any proposals regarding this matter again.”

This aerial image made from an Egyptian army helicopter shows a general view of a pro-military rally marking the third anniversary of the uprising that toppled autocrat Hosni Mubarak in Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt, January 25, 2014. (AP/Hassan Ammar)

Mubarak, who was overthrown in the face of mass public protests in 2011, concluded, “I have maintained a principle that I have never changed, which is not letting go of any inch of the Egyptian land that I fought along with my generation for. This was embodied in our insistence on restoring the last inch of our land which was occupied in 1967 and our success in returning the whole town of Taba to Egyptian sovereignty.”

The idea of establishing a Palestinian state in Sinai resurfaced in February in remarks by minister Ayoub Kara (Likud). They caused an outcry in Egypt.

Just before a meeting between Netanyahu and US President Donald Trump in Washington, Kara claimed that the two leaders would discuss a plan to establish a Palestinian state in Gaza and the Sinai Peninsula and not in the West Bank.

A spokesman for Sissi categorically denied at the time that such an “unimaginable,” “unrealistic” and “unacceptable” plan had been discussed “on any level.”

Kara was referring to a reported 2014 Egyptian proposal to resettle Palestinian refugees in a large tract of land in the Sinai Peninsula to be annexed to the Gaza Strip. While the plan was rejected by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and denied by Egyptian officials, Israeli ministers welcomed the reported proposal as a rejection of efforts to create a Palestinian state in the West Bank.

Communications Minister Ayoub Kara speaks at a press conference about the Communications Ministry’s move to shut down the Jerusalem office of Al Jazeera on August 6, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

On the basis of documents obtained through Britain’s Freedom of Information Act, the BBC described on Wednesday a bid by world leaders to solve both the Israeli-Palestinian dispute and the civil war in Lebanon, which had begun in 1975, by resettling Palestinians on Egyptian soil.

Notes from a meeting between Mubarak and the late British prime minister Margaret Thatcher indicated that the former had agreed to a request from then US president Ronald Reagan that Egypt accept Palestinians trying to flee Israel’s occupation of southern Lebanon in 1982, on the condition that it form part of a “comprehensive framework for a solution” to Palestinian national aspirations.

Israel had moved into southern Lebanon to stop Palestinian raids on Israel conducted from there.

Thatcher’s response to the idea of a Palestinian state was reportedly lukewarm. She was concerned about increased Palestinian military activity against Israel, by the fact that “even the establishment of a Palestinian state could not lead to the absorption of the whole of the Palestinian diaspora,” and by the risk that a Palestinian state might serve as a regional foothold for the Soviet Union.

In this 1980 file photo, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher poses for a photograph in London. (AP Photo/Gerald Penny)

According to the documents, Egypt’s foreign minister at the time, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, replied to Thatcher, “The Palestinians will have their own passports at that point and they will have different positions. We don’t only have to have an Israeli state and Jewish diaspora, but also a small Palestinian state with Palestinian diaspora.”

Mubarak’s political adviser at the time, Osama al-Baz, said that a Palestinian state would be dependent on the anti-Soviet monarchies of the Gulf. “There will be no Palestinian state under Russian influence,” he reportedly stressed.

Al-Baz spelled out a staged approach whereby a Palestinian state would first form part of a confederation with Jordan, evolving within 10 to 15 years into a demilitarized state.

Mubarak, who was tried and jailed under the regime of his successor Mohammed Morsi, resigned in February 2011 in the face of massive protests against his rule in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. Earlier this year, he was released from a military hospital after a long legal roller coaster.

The two-state solution has long been favored by the international community as a settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which would see a Palestinian state established alongside the Jewish state of Israel.

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