Sinai 'cornerstone' to Trump's peace plan, Egyptian sources reveal
Egyptian diplomatic sources have revealed fresh information surrounding Donald Trump's so-called 'deal of the century' for Palestinian-Israeli peace, notably that he plans to resolve many of Gaza's issues through establishing several economic projects in the neighbouring North Sinai.
Such plans include air and sea ports as well as establishing a trade zone and power station for Gazans, however all will remain under Egyptian supervision.
The plan was discussed during the Trump team's latest tour of the Middle East, undertaken by his adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner and Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt, during which they met no Palestinian officials. Instead, the pair met the leaders of Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Israel and Qatar, who have all allegedly agreed to the plan without Palestinian support.
Sources told The New Arab that during Kushner and Greenblatt's meeting with the Egyptian president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, foreign minister Sameh Shoukry and intelligence chief Abbas Kamel in Cairo last week, they touched upon the details of the deal concerning the Palestinians and specifically Gaza.
Discussions were held and agreements made despite the peace plan experiencing major setbacks due to the Palestinian Authority's refusal to take part following Trump's announcement he was moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in December last year.
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The sources explained that Kushner in Cairo discussed aspects of the deal to do with Egypt's role in it, namely joint projects with Gaza in the North Sinai, funded predominantly by Gulf money.
The desert region, currently experiencing an IS-linked insurgency being brutally quashed by an Egyptian military campaign, is planned to serve as a "cornerstone", say the sources. First up, a shared free trade zone between the Gaza Strip and Rafah would be established. Secondly, a giant power station has been planned, which would supply Gaza with much-neeed electricity, towards which the UAE have reportedly already pledged $500m.
Thirdly, the US plan comprises a joint Egypt-Gaza seaport in the North Sinai that would employ labour from Gaza, but would be fully supervised by Egypt, according to the sources.
In addition, the project includes, according to the source, an Egyptian airport in North Sinai which would also serve the people of Gaza, however again it would be entirely supervised and staffed by Egyptians.
The sources emphasised that this plan has become warmly welcomed by Egypt's political circles, much more so than proposed land exchange deals, which were vastly unpopular with the Egyptian people. The latest plan would facilitate economic growth development in the Sinai, which has historically been one of Egypt's poorest and most neglected regions.
|Israel requires the projects will be subject to Egyptian supervision, control and operation, to ensure they are not exploited for 'any activities hostile to Israel'|
However in conjunction with the Saudi proposed mega-city Neom, an industrial tech-focused city on the south Sinai border, as well as a Russian industrial zone in the Suez, prospects in the desert region are provisionally looking up.
The Israelis have also demanded the projects are implemented as part of a process of expanding the Gaza into the Sinai and transforming it into part of the future Palestinian state, in addition to land in the West Bank that has not been settled by Israelis, and not including Jerusalem.
Israel also requires these projects will be subject to Egyptian supervision, control and operation, to ensure they are not exploited for "any activities hostile to Israel", according to the sources.
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The sources also revealed the Egyptian government, within the framework of the semi-finalised plan, will in the coming financial year begin expanding the Gaza buffer zone in the Sinai and also evacuate large areas of it to facilitate the implementation of the proposed projects, however they will be built on uninhabited land according to the sources.
Egyptian and Arab diplomatic sources previously confirmed to The New Arab that unspecified Gulf countries have stumped up $3bn to fund the first phase of Trump's plan.
However one major obstacle that was not addressed by neither the sources nor any officials is that the Palestinians have broken off negotiations and refused to cooperate with the United States after Trump officially recognised Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
An integral part of peace for the Palestinians is to establish East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state. The irreverent US move strips it of its status as an impartial broker for peace. In addition, Trump's uncritical support for Netanyahu and an Israeli government intent on expanding illegal settlements, demolishing Palestinian homes and annexing Palestinian land in no way inclines the Palestinians to accept any plan that he formulates without Palestinian voices.