Egypt’s new military ruler has denied being behind a plan for a Palestinian state in the Sinai Peninsula that was this week being welcomed by Israeli politicians and dismissed by the Palestinians.
The proposal, from Egyptian army chief-turned president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, was greeted positively by Israeli ministers, former security chiefs and centrist politicians, who said it was “worth discussing seriously”.
However, a Foreign Ministry spokesman distanced Sisi from the reports, saying the thought originated with his predecessor – ousted Muslim Brotherhood president Mohammad Morsi.
The initiative would see an enlarged and demilitarised Gaza, roughly five times its current size, together with autonomous West Bank cities – all coming under the rule of the Palestinian Authority, which is currently led by Mahmoud Abbas.
Abbas has reportedly dismissed the framework in its entirety, but that has not stopped a range of Israeli politicians pushing for the idea to be developed.
“There are elements that are worth discussing despite Abbas’ refusal,” said Science and Technology Minister Yaakov Peri, a former Shin Bet intelligence chief. “It could solve problems that weren’t given a response in talks so far.”
He was joined in his openness to the proposal by far-right politician Ayelet Shaked, a chairwoman of Naftali Bennett’s Jewish Home, who said that the Egyptian president had “discerned what the Israeli Left has refused to understand for decades”.
Adding that the solution to the conflict “must be regional,” she called on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to meet with Sisi and examine the initiative.
Asked about the potential problems with the plan, Peri said it needed more thought and discussion, on issues such as Jerusalem and the extent to which West Bank cities would be controlled by the Palestinian Authority.
“The idea that major cities in Judea and Samaria will have autonomy is vague,” he said. “Everyone can understand it in a different way.”
The proposal is the first serious idea to be linked to Egypt’s new strongman leader, whose government helped arrange a Gaza ceasefire this summer and who has won friends in Israel for taking a firm stand against Islamist group Hamas.
Sisi had earlier unseated the democratically-elected Muslim Brotherhood in a bloody coup in 2013, killing up to 1,000 supporters, jailing its leaders and ultimately outlawing the group. He was subsequently elected with 97% of the vote.