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Analysis: How Neighboring Countries are Responding to the Palestinian Crisis

The Middle East, a region of immense historical, cultural, and political significance, continues to face multifaceted challenges that have global repercussions. This article delves into the complex geopolitical landscape, examining the current situations in Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Lebanon. Each of these countries confronts unique internal and external pressures, from economic struggles and political upheavals to humanitarian crises and security concerns. The focus here is on their individual and collective responses to the ongoing Palestinian crisis, a matter deeply intertwined with regional stability and international relations.

Egypt

Egypt has maintained a closed border with the Gaza Strip, barring Palestinians from entering the Sinai Peninsula [1]. This area, home to approximately 600,000 Egyptians, would see its population quadruple if the 2.2 million inhabitants of Gaza were to relocate there [2]. This prospect raises concerns about Egypt’s ability to handle such a dramatic increase in population, given the limited resources and infrastructure in the Sinai.

Compounding these challenges, Egypt grapples with a fragile economy, evidenced by a debt-to-GDP ratio nearing 93% and the distinction of being the largest recipient of IMF loans historically [3]. The government under President El-Sisi has been investing heavily in the development of New Cairo City, a project that has consumed $59 billion over six years [4].

The security situation in the Sinai is also precarious, with Al-Qaeda and IS establishing a presence since the late 2010s, and the region witnessing numerous attacks. The conflict has cost the lives of over 3,000 Egyptian soldiers since 2013 [5]. Egypt is particularly wary of potential infiltration by Hamas members, fearing it could exacerbate the insurgency in the already lightly governed, vast Sinai Peninsula. Following a military coup in 2013, El-Sisi’s government banned the Muslim Brotherhood and thus views Hamas, an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, as a security threat [6].

President Sisi is also concerned that settling Gazans in Sinai could become permanent, undermining the possibility of an independent Palestinian state in Gaza. This concern is heightened by Israel’s settlement policies in the West Bank and leaked documents suggesting a plan for the mass expulsion of Gazans [7]. Allowing Palestinian resettlement in Sinai could be seen as political suicide for an already unpopular Sisi, as it could be interpreted as aiding the end of Palestinian statehood.

Despite financial incentives from Israel and the United States, including debt relief, Sisi is unlikely to relent given these complex considerations [8].

Jordan and Saudi Arabia

Jordan, with a population of 11.4 million, of which 3 million are Palestinian refugees or their descendants, faces its own challenges [9]. The potential for a third intifada in the West Bank raises fears in Jordan of a forced migration of Palestinians, placing further strain on its resources.

Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, is investing heavily in Neom, a $500 billion futuristic city project located near Jordan [10]. Instability in Jordan could jeopardize this megaproject, threatening Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman’s ambitious “Vision 2030” initiative. Jordan has made it clear that any forced relocation of Palestinians into Jordan is an unacceptable breach by Israel [11].

Syria

Since 2012, Syria has been embroiled in a civil war, resulting in over 600,000 deaths and the displacement of 6.7 million people from a pre-war population of 21 million [12]. The conflict has decimated the country’s economy and divided it into six factions. The Assad regime, controlling just about 70% of the territory, faces an additional burden if it were to take in more refugees [13]. With the conflict in a stalemate and Russia’s involvement reduced due to its focus on Ukraine, Syria’s capacity to engage in further conflict, including any potential action against Israel regarding the Golan Heights, is limited.

Lebanon

Lebanon’s economy is crippled by financial mismanagement, corruption, and the impact of the Syrian refugee crisis. The catastrophic explosion in Beirut’s port in 2020 further devastated the country. Facing hyperinflation, soaring unemployment, and a nearly halved GDP since 2018, Lebanon is unlikely to take in more Palestinian refugees or engage in war [14]. Hezbollah’s restrained response to provocations in southern Lebanon may be partly due to these overwhelming internal challenges. Hezbollah has been a fixture of the Lebanese government since 1992 with members being elected to Parliament and holding cabinet positons [15].

Conclusion

The Middle Eastern geopolitical tapestry is intricate and constantly evolving. In this region, historical grievances, political aspirations, and economic necessities intertwine, creating a complex matrix of challenges and decisions for each nation. Egypt’s cautious stance, Jordan and Saudi Arabia’s firm redlines, Syria’s internal strife, and Lebanon’s dire economic situation each reflect the diverse responses to the Palestinian issue and broader regional dynamics. These scenarios underscore the delicate balance each nation must maintain in navigating their domestic concerns, regional commitments, and international pressures. The future of the Middle East, while uncertain, will undoubtedly be shaped by how these nations address their internal challenges while responding to the Palestinian situation and their interactions with neighboring countries and global powers.

[1] Wintour, P. (2023). Why Egypt has not fully opened its Gaza border for fleeing Palestinians. The Guardian. [online] 2 Nov. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2023/nov/02/why-egypt-has-not-fully-opened-its-gaza-border-for-fleei ng-palestinians.

[2] Greenwood, N.H. and Internet Archive (1997). The Sinai : a physical geography. [online] Internet Archive. Austin, Tex. : University of Texas Press. Available at: https://archive.org/details/sinaiphysicalgeo0000gree/page/n5/mode/2up.

[3] IMF. (n.d.). Transcript of October 2023 Fiscal Monitor Press Briefing. [online] Available at:https://www.imf.org/en/News/Articles/2023/10/11/tr101123-transcript-of-october-2023-fiscal-monitor-press- briefing#:~:text=So%2C%20Egypt%2C%20right%20before%20the.

[4] Pasley, J. (n.d.). Egypt is trying to make Cairo look like Dubai. It’s taken 10 years and cost $58 billion. [online] Business Insider. Available at: https://www.businessinsider.com/photos-cairo-egypt-razed-modern-development-2023-9

[5] Hendawi, H. (2022). Egypt has lost more than 3,000 in fight against militants since 2013, says El Sisi. [online] The National. Available at: https://www.thenationalnews.com/mena/2022/04/27/egypt-has-lost-more-than-3000-in-fight-against-milita nts-since-2013-says-el-sisi/.

[6] Zollner, B. (2019). Surviving Repression: How Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood Has Carried On. [online] Carnegie Middle East Center. Available at: https://carnegie-mec.org/2019/03/11/surviving-repression-how-egypt-s-muslim-brotherhood-has-carried-o n-pub-78552.

[7] CBC. (2023). Leaked document fuels concern Israel plans to push Palestinians from Gaza into Egypt. [online] Available at: https://www.cbc.ca/news/world/israel-gaza-palestinians-concept-paper-1.7015576.

[8] Bloomberg. (2023) – Egypt Denies Debt Relief Offered to Accept Gaza Palestinians. [online] Available at:https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2023-11-16/egypt-denies-debt-relief-was-offered-to-accept-gaz a-palestinians.

[9] Refugees, U.N.H.C. for (n.d.). Refworld | World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples – Jordan : Palestinians. [online] Refworld. Available at: https://www.refworld.org/docid/49749cfcc.html.

[10] Mata, W. (2023). What is Neom? The $500 billion Saudi Arabian ‘smart city’. [online] Evening Standard. Available at:https://www.standard.co.uk/news/world/neom-saudi-arabia-smart-city-mohammed-bin-salman-b1114036.h tml.

[11] Arab News. (2023). Jordan’s PM says displacement of Palestinians ‘red line’ violating peace treaty. [online] Available at: https://www.arabnews.com/node/2416051/middle-east.

[12] SOHR (2021). Total death toll | Over 606,000 people killed across Syria since the beginning of the ‘Syrian Revolution’, including 495,000 documented by SOHR • The Syrian Observatory For Human Rights. [online] The Syrian Observatory For Human Rights. Available at: https://www.syriahr.com/en/217360/.

[13] Yacoubian, M. (2023). Syria’s Stalemate Has Only Benefitted Assad and His Backers. [online] United States Institute of Peace. Available at: https://www.usip.org/publications/2023/03/syrias-stalemate-has-only-benefitted-assad-and-his-backers.

[14] reliefweb.int. (2023). Lebanon Economic Monitor, Spring 2023: The Normalization of Crisis is No Road for Stabilization [EN/AR] – Lebanon | ReliefWeb. [online] Available at: https://reliefweb.int/report/lebanon/lebanon-economic-monitor-spring-2023-normalization-crisis-no-road-st abilization-enarpage5image63653760

[15] Council on Foreign Relations. (n.d.). What Is Hezbollah? [online] Available at: https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/what-hezbollah#:~:text=Hezbollah%20has%20been%20a%20fixture.