One seemingly straightforward idea to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would be for Israel to return Gaza to Egypt and the West Bank to Jordan. Bolton proposed it the other day and Marc Lynch tore the idea apart. Short version neither Egypt nor Jordan are interested, here’s the specifics on Egypt:
The Mubarak regime has been doing everything possible to separate from Gaza, not to return to it. As Steve Cook recently pointed out, there is no upside for the Egyptian regime in this crisis. Why would a sclerotic regime obsessed with the "threat" of the Muslim Brotherhood at home and consumed with a difficult transition from an aging President take on responsibility for an enraged and devasted Gaza population which blames Egypt for enforcing the blockade on behalf of Israel?
After reading this, I noted that the objections on the Egyptian side seemed mostly centered around Mubarak (or a likely dictatorial successor). Gazans weren’t to happy with Egypt either, but that anger may be focused on the regime rather than the people. So I was wondering whether a more democratic Egypt might change the situation, at least pending a resolution of the West Bank. Via a request thread, I asked that of Matt Yglesias. His short answer: nope. Whole post is worth reading, but here’s an excerpt.
I can’t speak from a great wealth of personal experience, but I do think it’s a mistake to look at the Middle East as just a big ol’ sea of generic Arabs who can be shunted from one country to another… But think of Alaska. Notwithstanding the fact that Alaska shares a border with Canada along with a language and broadly speaking a “culture,” Alaskans are still Americans. And, indeed, as we’ve seen from Sarah Palin they’re capable of manifesting an ugly brand of American nationalism that’s totally incompatible with being Canadian.
An interesting related issue that can only be speculated about is to what degree would we see much closer political integration between Arab states if he had more political democracy. There are efforts, of course, to coordinate Arab policy through fora such as the Arab League. But in practice it’s extremely difficult for authoritarian states to cooperate in a deep way.
Some commenters with first hand experience with the Egyptian people confirmed that there was no real interest in taking Gaza. Here’s some details from ST who was kind of enough to allow me to quote:
Like Dody, I live in Cairo. I’m a non-Arabic speaking expat American. Given those limitations, my impression from talking with Egyptian professionals as well as blue collar types (my housekeeper, drivers from work etc.) is that most people here do not want Gaza to be part of Egypt. They are upset about what is happening but think Hamas picked this fight and now wants Egypt to come solve it for them–and they do not want another war with Israel. My housekeeper thinks when the border security was lifted last year the Palestinians came in and bought everything in the Sinai, driving up prices for poor Egyptians and causing a lot of problems. She and others feel that if Egypt took over Gaza or opened the border they would inherit responsibility for a lot of social problems among the Palestinians and there are enough poor people here in Egypt to care for already. There are certainly some who feel that Egypt should be doing more, but the idea that Egypt should just annex Gaza is not even considered by those I have talked with and dismissed when I brought it up.
Caveat, those likely to speak to Americans in this case are more interested in staying in the good graces of the U.S. So, my current view is that a more democratic Egypt is unlikely to offer even an interim solution to the political limbo Gaza is in. That said, there probably would be closer economic cooperation with Gaza and perhaps less willingness to uphold a blockade.
Finally, just wanted to say thanks to Matt Yglesias. I’ve dealt with him a couple times by email and comments and he’s been consistently gracious. I appreciate that on a personal level, and on a practical level it means he’s got to be devoting a reasonable amount of time to dealing with bloggers and wonks far lower on the totem pole than he. And thanks again to ST for filling in some details on the ground.