Expelling Palestinians From Gaza Is Playing With Fire

A mass population transfer of Palestinian refugees in Gaza to Egypt would not only entail significant security risks for Egypt, but also make Egypt complicit in Israel’s policy of bringing about a second Nakba

A general view of a tent camp sheltering displaced Palestinians, who fled their homes due to Israeli strikes, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip, January 3, 2024. Saleh Salem/Reuters

Among the many risks inherent in the ongoing war in Gaza, perhaps the most dangerous has been the potential for broader escalation involving other regional fronts, pitting Israel and U.S. forces against Iranian-backed proxies in south Lebanon, Yemen, and Syria as well as Iraq. Yet, no less serious are the potential spillover effects of the conflict on Egypt. In particular, the prospect of the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees into the Sinai constitutes perhaps one of the most destabilizing potential outcomes of the conflict. Such a scenario would pose not only a serious challenge to Egypt’s security but would also constitute a potential game-changer in the configuration of the Arab-Israeli conflict. 

The Biden administration seems to understand the dangers entailed in the forceful transfer of Palestinians from Gaza, with Secretary of State Antony Blinken calling it a non-starter. However, the mounting humanitarian crisis in Gaza, coupled with the strident voices within Israel advocating for the expulsion of Palestinians from the territory, means that the administration should be prepared to continue forcefully pushing back. 

A Not-So-Hidden Agenda

Since the onset of the war, the signals coming out of Israel gave clear indication that the forced displacement of Palestinians in Gaza across the border into Egypt was indeed an explicit objective. Israel’s Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, head of the far-right National Religious Party, said that he welcomed the idea of “voluntary emigration of Gaza Arabs to countries around the world,” while advocating for the reestablishment of Jewish settlements in the territory. 

This essay was originally published in War on the Rocks. You can read the full version by clicking this link

Karim Haggag is co-managing editor of the Cairo Review of Global Affairs and director of Masters of Global Affairs. He was previously director of the Prince Alwaleed Center for American Studies and Research at the American University in Cairo. He joined AUC as professor of practice in the Department of Public Policy and Administration and the Middle East Studies Center in July 2017, bringing over twenty-five years of experience in Egypt’s diplomatic service. Throughout his career, he served in numerous positions including director of the Egyptian Press and Information Office in Washington D.C. from 2007–11 and in the Office of the Presidency in Cairo from 2002– 2007. Haggag was also a visiting professor with the Near East and South Asia Center for Strategic Studies at the National Defense University in Washington D.C. from 2011 to 2013.  Read More
Omar Auf is deputy senior editor at the Cairo Review of Global Affairs. He has previously worked and published in independent media organization Mada Masr and as an assistant editor at the Cairo Review. Auf holds a Master of Global Affairs degree with a regional and international security concentration from the American University in Cairo, and a Bachelor of Arts in economics from Sciences Po Paris. Read More