Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Photo: ABIR SULTAN/POOL/AFP via Getty Images
Israel has acknowledged that a government ministry drafted a report proposing the forced, permanent transfer of Gaza’s population to Egypt, fuelling fears of a further catastrophic dispossession of Palestinians.The 10-page document by Israel’s Ministry of Intelligence, dated the 13th of October, recommends the transfer of Gaza’s population of more than 2 million people to Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, as the preferred option for securing Israel’s security at the end of the assault on Gaza.
The document recommended that civilians from Gaza be evacuated into northern Sinai where they would be housed in tent cities and serviced by a humanitarian corridor before permanent cities were built. A buffer zone of several kilometres would also be created along the border with Israel. The report recommended that this strategy should be pitched to the international community as a humanitarian approach to minimising civilian casualties in Israel’s assault on Gaza and be accompanied by a push for Arab and Western countries to also take in Palestinian refugees.Details of the leaked paper were first published last week by Israeli news outlet Calcalist. On Monday, Israeli officials confirmed that the leaked document was genuine, but downplayed its significance. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office told The Associated Press that the report was a non-binding “concept paper, the likes of which are prepared at all levels of the government and its security agencies.”“The issue of the ‘day after’ has not been discussed in any official forum in Israel, which is focused at this time on destroying the governing and military capabilities of Hamas,” Netanyahu’s office said.The paper's existence does not mean its recommendations are being considered by officials, reported Israeli news site Sicha Mekomit (Local Call), which was the first outlet to publish the paper in full, as the Intelligence Ministry does not create policy or control any intelligence agency.
Nevertheless, the report drew alarm from Palestinian officials, evoking memories of the Nakba (“catastrophe” in Arabic), which refers to the mass displacement of Palestinians in fighting surrounding the creation of Israel in 1948.“We are against transfer to any place, in any form, and we consider it a red line that we will not allow to be crossed,” Nabil Abu Rudeineh, spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, told the AP. “What happened in 1948 will not be allowed to happen again.”The proposal will also likely alarm Egypt – the first Arab state to recognise Israel in 1979. Egypt has not responded to the Israeli paper but it is opposed to taking in refugees from Gaza, suggesting they should be relocated to Israel’s Negev Desert until Israel’s assault on Gaza is over.The other two options considered in the Intelligence Ministry report were returning the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority to power in Gaza, or backing another Palestinian regime. But these were dismissed for various reasons, including the inability to prevent future attacks by Hamas on Israel.