According to British journalist and long-time Middle East correspondent Jonathan Cook, who has long covered the Israel-Palestine conflict for various media, Israel now sees its chance to rid itself of the Palestinian population of Gaza for good. He suggests that the Israeli strategy simply involves making life so unbearable for Palestinians that they are driven into Egypt.
“The main goal is not what is being highlighted. Israel has much bigger ambitions than just destroying Hamas”, he elaborates in an extensive analysis.
Jonathan Cook has also previously written several books on what he argues are the long-term plans to expand the Israeli state and ethnically cleanse the occupied territories of Palestinians. In an analysis published against the backdrop of Hamas’ attacks on October 7th, and Israel’s subsequent bombings and invasion of Gaza, he writes that Israel now sees its chance to permanently displace the Palestinian people into Egypt – to get rid of them once and for all.
He notes that Western institutions initially defended Israel’s retaliation campaign on the basis that it had the right to defend itself, but this rhetoric has already been abandoned as the death toll rises – and now the conversation has shifted to Israel needing time and space to “destroy Hamas.”
“That requires a ground invasion by Israeli troops – many of them religious extremists from illegal settlements in the West Bank – who are certain to be seeking vengeance for Hamas’ attack on October 7. The atrocities are only likely to intensify. But there is method in Israel’s military madness. And the main goal is not the one being promoted. Israel has much larger ambitions than ‘destroying Hamas'”, he writes.
Support from the West
According to Cook, Israeli power-holders are fully aware that the Palestinians will never accept their subjugation – and will continue to resist, whether Hamas is annihilated or not and regardless of who is in power in Gaza. Hence, Israel’s solution is to displace the entire Palestinian population permanently.
“Israel’s strategic problem was compounded by the humanitarian crisis it had created by penning such a large and growing population into a tiny area with no resources. Poverty, malnutrition, unclean water, overcrowding and lack of housing, as well as the trauma of being encaged and intermittently bombed by Israel to subdue any resistance, was slowly turning Gaza from a prison into a death camp. The UN had warned that the enclave would be effectively ‘uninhabitable’ by 2020.”
“The solution to this – one that accorded with Israel’s long settler colonial ambitions to replace the Palestinians in their own homeland – was clear. Israel needed to create a consensus in the West justifying the expulsion of the Palestinians from Gaza. And the only realistic place for them to go was into the neighbouring Egyptian territory of Sinai”, he continues.
Cook points out that details of the planned expulsion of Palestinians started leaking in Israeli media as early as 2014 – but at that time “relied more on carrots than sticks“. The idea was to unite Gaza with Sinai and erase the border between the two areas, and Washington would help secure international financing for a free trade zone.
The impoverished and often unemployed Palestinians would gradually move their lives to Sinai and either settle there or move on to other Egyptian cities.
“Following the leaks, Egyptian and Palestinian officials hurriedly denounced the plan as ‘fabricated’. However, there were plenty of clues that Egypt had begun facing pressure from 2007 onwards. In response to the Israeli media leaks of 2014, an official close to former president Hosni Mubarak admitted that the screws had been turned on him in 2007 to agree to annex Gaza”.
Five years later, Egypt was again subjected to American and Israeli pressure to cede a third of Sinai to Gaza – but refused. In 2014, Egypt’s current President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi was close to capitulating to the demands, but ultimately he also refused.
“The gains for Israel in moving Palestinians from Gaza to Sinai, whether voluntarily under the Greater Gaza Plan or by force during a ground invasion, are obvious.Egypt’s military dictatorship would inherit the problem of crushing Palestinian resistance groups like Hamas – largely out of view – rather than Israel. Hamas would not be likely to fare well, given the Egyptian military’s repression of the country’s own political Islamist movements”.
“Making Gaza uninhabitable”
“The costs of confining and policing Gaza would shift from Israel to the Arab world and international community.Once inside Sinai, ordinary Palestinians could be expected to seek alleviation from their poverty and suffering by integrating into wider Egyptian society, eventually moving to big cities like Cairo and Alexandria. They would be stripped of their right in international law to return to their homes. In a generation or two, their children would identify as Egyptian, not Palestinian”, Cook continues.
Meanwhile, the West Bank would become even more isolated and vulnerable than today and, according to the journalist, subject to intensified attacks by Jewish settlers backed by Israeli soldiers.
“The problem is that no Egyptian leader has dared to accept such a plan, however much international arm-twisting and bribery was involved.None wanted to be seen conspiring in Israel’s ethnic cleansing and final dispossession of the Palestinian people, one of the gravest and longest-running grievances shared by populations across the Middle East”.
“Which brings us to Israel’s current bombing campaign, which accords with no conceivable principle of proportionality, and its imminent ground invasion. Far from targeting Hamas, Israel has every incentive to use the Hamas attack of October 7 as a pretext to wreak as much damage on Gaza as possible. Israel’s goal is to speed up the process of making Gaza uninhabitable”, declares Cook.
From Carrot to Stick
Cook believes that Israel “needs Palestinians in Gaza so desperate to leave that they will ethnically cleanse themselves” and an Egypt that is under so much pressure for not opening the border to Sinai that it eventually gives in and opens the border for Palestinians.
“With its current bombing campaign, Israel has moved from carrots to a very large stick.Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu is aware that he has only a limited time-window to effect enough carnage to realise Israel’s plan”.
“The aim appears to be to squeeze Palestinians into the tiny space of Gaza’s south, next to the border with Sinai, destroy all civilian infrastructure, and bomb and terrorise Palestinians in the south too.Palestinians are already clamouring to be allowed into Sinai, while Sisi is presumably coming under the severest pressure behind the scenes to back down and open the border”, he elaborates.
Creating a precedent
Cook concludes by assessing that Israel hopes for a precedent that the international community will overlook – and that the remaining Palestinians in the West Bank, after Gaza has been emptied, will also be pressured to join their families and compatriots in Egypt.
“Having been embarrassed by the festering wound of the Palestinians’ dispossession for more than 75 years, the West and Arab world will be only too happy finally to bury the Palestinian cause for good”, Cook concludes.