As Palestinians in Gaza seek shelter from the ongoing conflict with Israel, the neighboring nations of Egypt and Jordan have faced a pivotal question – should they accept Palestinian refugees? However, both nations have adamantly declined, citing grave concerns.
Egypt, under President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi, articulated its strongest stance yet, asserting that the current conflict not only targets Hamas in Gaza but also aims to force civilians to migrate to Egypt. The implications of such an influx are unsettling for both countries, as it threatens to jeopardize peace in the region.
Jordan, similarly, declared its unwavering position that there will be no acceptance of refugees on its soil. Their reluctance is founded on the fear that Israel intends to permanently relocate Palestinians into their countries, thereby undermining Palestinian aspirations for statehood. Additionally, there is the added worry that accommodating refugees from Gaza could introduce militants into Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, potentially leading to attacks on Israel, thus endangering the longstanding peace treaty between the two nations.
To understand Egypt’s and Jordan’s stance, it is crucial to delve into the historical context. Displacement has been an enduring theme in Palestinian history. The Nakba, or “catastrophe,” in 1948 saw approximately 700,000 Palestinians expelled or fleeing from what is now Israel. Furthermore, the 1967 Mideast war added another 300,000 Palestinian refugees, mainly finding refuge in Jordan. Presently, the Palestinian refugee population and their descendants total nearly 6 million, residing in various regions, including the West Bank, Gaza, Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan.
The apprehension lies in the fact that there is no clear path to resolution in the ongoing conflict. While Israel asserts its intent to neutralize Hamas, the future governance of Gaza remains uncertain. This lack of clarity raises concerns that Israel may occupy Gaza once again, which could further intensify the situation.
Egypt has urged Israel to permit humanitarian aid into Gaza, but it remains skeptical. Egypt, grappling with its own economic crisis, is already hosting approximately 9 million refugees and migrants, including around 300,000 Sudanese newcomers who fled their homeland’s turmoil.
Arab countries and Palestinians share concerns that Israel may exploit this crisis to alter demographics permanently, undermining Palestinian statehood aspirations in Gaza, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem. President El-Sissi reiterated the potential exodus’s intent is to “eliminate the Palestinian cause, the most important cause of our region.”
These concerns have been exacerbated by the ascent of hard-right parties in Israel that openly discuss the removal of Palestinians. Following the recent Hamas attack, some politicians and media figures have called for an even more aggressive stance, prompting fears of a “new Nakba” in Gaza.
Lastly, Egypt’s concerns extend to security. A mass exodus from Gaza could bring Palestinian militants onto Egyptian territory, unsettling the Sinai region, which Egypt has diligently pacified after years of battling Islamic extremists. The worry is that Hamas may support these militants, which would complicate matters further.
Thus, Egypt and Jordan grapple with profound anxieties, as they seek to protect their own stability while navigating a volatile and complex geopolitical landscape in the Middle East.