The Gaza Strip is tiny, only some 35 km by 13 km.
It has a teeming population of nearly two million with little means of livelihood and less space.
There is nowhere for residents of the Strip to move to while its destroyed suburbs are rebuilt. It cannot trade efficiently as it lacks an airport and a viable seaport, and anyway there is little space for an airport.
Egypt, on the other hand, is a wonderful, historic country but lacks the finances and energy to make the most of its opportunities in agriculture and tourism. It does have one money-spinning asset, the Suez Canal, and wishes to expand it, but lacks the expertise and the resources to do so.
Israel is self-sufficient, prosperous and has tremendous energy but it’s only a small country, and at odds with its neighbors, so it cannot exploit its potential. Worse still, it has to be on constant guard against its neighbors as they plot to destroy this successful democracy. It is surrounded by Islamic monarchies and dictatorships, whose people live in poverty and view Israeli success with jealous eyes.
Egypt, Gaza and Israel lie close to each other, and all border the wilderness of Sinai. And it is a wilderness, not a desert. It has a warm climate and many natural resources, including wonderful beaches and underground water. It is 200 km long from the Canal to Gaza, and 200 km deep from the Mediterranean to the mountains. It all belongs to Egypt, but Egypt has done little with it, little to control the Beduin tribes that roam it and that threaten any pipeline that Egypt runs across it, and any travelers that venture into it.
One hundred years ago C. Leonard Woolley of the British Museum and his assistant T.E. Lawrence (later “of Arabia”) surveyed it to look for evidence of its crossing by the Children of Israel and found little. After 1967, Israeli archaeologists, under the leadership of Eliezer Oren of Ben-Gurion University, found considerable ancient artifacts and fortresses along the northern shore, but all treasures were returned to Egypt as part of the peace treaty. Today Sinai remains empty and virtually uninhabited. It is the last lost frontier, it abuts Egypt, Gaza and Israel, and even Saudi Arabia and Jordan lie very close to it. It lies empty and woefully under-inhabited, but things could be different.
A 20 km slice, north to south, could be given to the Gazans to camp in while their cities are rebuilt. They would be allowed to retain it afterward and build an airport and seaport there for their own commercial use.
The Egyptians for their part will duplicate the Canal; they have the land but not the ability. The world’s traffic passes through the Canal, it is prosperity incarnate.
The Egyptians are desperate to build a new Suez City alongside a widened Suez Canal. The project has been planned, it will bring Egypt prosperity but there is as yet no funding to implement it.
Egypt is the key. Egypt can donate the land, the United States and Saudi Arabia the finances, while Israel and the Europeans will provide the energy and the expertise. And Gaza can supply the labor. There are advantages for everyone.
Egypt will have a greater money-spinner in a Suez City and an expanded Suez Canal, Gaza will have space to rebuild and make contact with the outside world, and Israel will have a satisfied neighbor on its southern border.
Above all, the Islamists will have a successful country in Gaza that they can boast of as the Muslim dream, with no need to arm itself against a more successful neighbor.
Hamas is a terrorist organization built on a philosophy of envy. The Koran has not given the Muslims what they want: a good life under a good government. They live in poverty under wealthy rulers and monarchs, while they see the non-Islamic Zionists live in comfort in a just society.
How has that become possible, when it is the Koran that should be the great giver of life and prosperity? With expansion into the Sinai, it will be possible to make Gaza a model Muslim society. The ruins will be rebuilt, while the population is decanted into the new areas, the economy will flourish as Gaza communicates with the rest of the world in trade and tourism. With the Sinai, it has much to offer, in fruit, in flowers, in vegetables, in beaches and mountain scenery. Its airport will connect internationally, and also serve the new Egyptian economic miracle of the Suez City and expanded Canal. There will be no need for Gaza to arm itself militarily, it will not be sitting jealously by a more successful Israel. Gaza will become the model Islamic state, as its population and rulers feel the excitement of renewed life and economic success.
Egypt has done nothing with the Sinai and will have to give up part of its useless territory to Gaza in exchange for money from the United States and Saudi Arabia, which it can channel into the new Suez City and Canal and so achieve the economic growth it so desperately needs. It will connect to the new Gaza airport and take advantage of the tourist attractions of the Sinai highlands and its archaeological remains. The Monastery of Santa Catherina is of great interest and the location of Mount Sinai is still a matter of eager investigation.
As for Israel, it will see a Gaza busy with reconstruction and development of its economy, using its donated money for rebuilding and not rearmament, and beginning to settle into its new role as the successful Islamist state, organized for the benefit of its people and not just its leaders.
Its success will undercut the attraction of Hamas, it can live alongside Israel in equality and eventually in harmony.
The key to all this is the land of the Sinai. The Israelite tribes crossed it over 3,000 years ago, and today it should be developed and used for the benefit of its three contingent countries – Egypt, Gaza and Israel.
The author is a Senior Fellow of the W. F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research, Jerusalem.