In 1903 the British offered Zionists a Jewish state — in Uganda. At a time of pogroms and persecution, Uganda could be a needed refuge. After much debate, the offer was rejected. After all, Zionism was not just a political dream but also a spiritual state of mind, a yearning for a return to our indigenous, biblical, spiritual home.
This past week, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi offered the Palestinians a state in Sinai, adjacent to Gaza, five times Gaza’s size, with a long Mediterranean coast. The plan gives the Palestinian Authority jurisdiction and autonomy over West Bank cities in exchange for ending its demand for 1967 borders, and dropping refugee claims. Many Israelis welcomed the plan, but Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, rejected it, as did Hamas.
One can oppose Palestinian policies while still taking the Palestinians seriously enough to recognize that their aspiration for statehood is not just a quest for any land, but for what they claim is their homeland, some say ranging “from the sea (the Mediterranean) to the river (the Jordan).” Sinai is as weak an answer for that as Uganda was.
The plan has been around and rejected since 1956, before Israel controlled one inch of the West Bank or Gaza. In 2012, the proposal was floated again, and a leading columnist for Egypt’s Al-Ahram spoke for Egyptian rejectionists: “Egypt is for … Egyptians. [Every] Egyptian sympathizes with the Palestinian cause, and much Egyptian blood has been shed in defense of it. But if these rumors are true, the Palestinians have shown themselves to be ungrateful and could be considered to be Egypt’s enemies. … Any Egyptian who helps the Palestinians or others to plunder our land must be considered a traitor.”
In 2013, Egypt’s Al-Watan newspaper said the Palestinians never ceased opposition to the “American-Israeli plot” that “seeks to solve the central issue of the Middle East without Israel having to make a single concession. … The obvious aim [is] to discredit the Muslim Brotherhood and its Palestinian offshoot, Hamas. Both movements have never concealed their objective is the total liberation of Palestine, from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea.”
Six months ago, talk of the plan was again dismissed by the PA and Hamas.
So maybe the proposal is neither new nor embraced. Yet, all proposals are welcome, especially at a time of diplomatic stagnation — for stranger things have happened in the Middle East, where Anwar Sadat flew in peace to Jerusalem despite a state of war, and where Yitzchak Rabin and Yasir Arafat shook hands that once pulled triggers.