(August 7, 2014) ‘If there is any such thing as a Palestinian people, it is I, Yasser Arafat, who created them.’
“Sisi is a traitor, he cooperates with the siege,” Gazans repeatedly decried during the recent war, bitter over the unofficial alliance between Israel and Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, who is now hosting the ceasefire negotiations in Cairo.
Sisi has been called a traitor before — by fellow Egyptians, after he overthrew the country’s Muslim Brotherhood regime in a military coup. But why do Gazans call Sisi a “traitor,” which implies that he is a countryman, rather than calling him an “enemy,” the term commonly used to describe a hostile foreigner?
Because many Gazans see themselves as Egyptian, and for good reason. Explained Fathi Hammad, the Hamas Minister of the Interior and of National Security: “half of the Palestinians are Egyptian.”
Hammad made that comment two years ago, in bitterly criticizing Egypt for not helping its countrymen in Gaza. “Who are the Palestinians?” he exclaimed. “We have many families called al-Masri, whose roots are Egyptian! They may be from Alexandria, from Cairo, from Dumietta, from the north, from Aswan, from Upper Egypt. We are Egyptians; we are Arabs. We are Muslims. We are part of you. Egyptians! Personally, half my family is Egyptian – and the other half are Saudis.”
“Masri,” in fact, means “the Egyptian” in Arabic. As Gazans and most other Palestinian Arabs well know, with few exceptions they are not indigenous local peoples but relative newcomers who migrated in the 19th and 20th centuries to the land then called Palestine, along with the many Jews who migrated to Palestine in the 19th and 20th centuries. Palestinians can’t help but know their non-Palestinian origins: Other common names in Palestine include al-Djazair (the Algerian), el-Mughrabi (the Moroccan) and al-Yamani (the Yemenite).
Even Yasser Arafat, the icon of the Palestinian cause and the most famous Gazan resident of modern times, was born and raised primarily in Egypt, studied at the University of Cairo and served in the Egyptian military. As he himself said in his official biography, “if there is any such thing as a Palestinian people, it is I, Yasser Arafat, who created them.”
In Gaza’s long history, it has often been Egyptian territory, its fate in Egyptian hands. Today its fate is again in Egyptian hands, with the “traitor,” President Sisi, holding the whip hand in the ceasefire negotiations. Only this time Egypt doesn’t want Hamas-run Gaza back in the Egyptian fold, despite Gaza’s offshore energy riches. To the contrary, Sisi’s goal in the post-war negotiations is to keep Gaza and its estimated 20,000 armed terrorists as remote from Egypt as possible. This is also the goal of many if not most Egyptians, who are as repulsed by Hamas, a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, as they were by their own country’s Muslim Brotherhood government.
Until the 1967 Six Day War, the Gaza Strip was held by Egypt and the West Bank by Jordan. Before Arafat turned Gaza into a terrorist haven, Egypt wanted Gaza back. Now it doesn’t, to spare itself from jihadist mayhem. Likewise, Jordan no longer wants the West Bank back. To isolate Palestinians and protect their own regimes, these Arab states go along with the fiction that Gazans and West Bankers are a distinct people that inherently deserve their own homeland. When Egypt, Jordan and other Arab countries call for Israel to return to its pre-1967 borders, they aren’t calling for Gaza to go back to its pre-1967 border under Egyptian rule, or for the West Bank to go back to Jordan. They are calling for the Palestinians — who are widely reviled in the Arab world — to be contained in their own state, in the expectation that Israel will then keep Palestinian terrorists at bay. Since Israel also doesn’t want to incorporate Gazans and West Bankers into Israel proper, it too now goes along with the fiction.
The Cairo ceasefire negotiations are thus proceeding with the Egyptians, the Israelis and the Americans wishing hard that they can construct a lasting peace on a foundation of lies to arrive at a diplomatic solution with Hamas, a terrorist group ideologically committed to the destruction of Israel, the West, and secular Arab regimes such as Egypt’s. It’s a make-believe game that will end badly.
Second in a series. For the first column, see: Gaza’s fantasy siege.