Since the prime minister announced his disengagement plan, Egypt has been in a state of political-diplomatic alert.
Egypt's reading of the state of affairs is not Israel's. Egyptian intelligence officials believe that the implementation of a disengagement plan in the Gaza Strip without an orderly transfer of power to an agreed-upon authority will create a political and security vacuum, and could result in the creation of a Palestinian mini-state in Gaza ruled by radical organizations such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
Such a scenario would pose dangers to Egypt on two levels: the claim of the radical Palestinian organizations that an Israeli withdrawal is their triumph would influence militant organizations in Egypt; and the withdrawal from Gaza without the transfer of power to a responsible group could create direct conflict between Egypt and the Palestinian organizations, and even jeopardize the peace agreement with Israel.
Egypt is not Israel. It cannot send bulldozers or tanks to impose order in the Strip. Mubarak believes that he must save Israel, and himself, from the mistake it is making.
Instead of a vacuum, Mubarak wants a situation in which the appearance of a unilateral withdrawal is kept, while all the components of a binding agreement are nonetheless latched to the disengagement plan.
Egypt has taken steps on several levels. To solve the issue of control on the Philadelphi route, Egypt would agree to the deployment of foreign peacekeepers along the route.
Concurrently, Egyptian officials will sponsor meetings soon with delegates from Palestinian groups that are in Cairo; the aim of these discussions will be to obtain from the groups a pledge to cease acts hostile to Israel, and not to launch strikes against Egyptian forces due in Gaza to train Palestinian security personnel.
Egypt's objective is not to broker a hudna between Israel and the Palestinian organizations; instead, it wants to build up a political constellation from all Palestinians streams in Gaza, and urge this conglomerate to take responsibility for security matters. Should such a political cluster form, Egypt will supply weapons to it, and also assist the construction of prison facilities and other security installations.
Hamas leaders in Syria have agreed, in principle, to dispatch delegates to the meeting in Egypt.
The question has now become whether Arafat will readily accept the Egyptian arrangement, under which security powers be put in Ahmed Queria's hands, and through the Palestinian Authority prime minister, passed to Mohammed Dahlan.
Egyptian sources say that without Arafat's consent, Mubarak's plan will not work; at this stage, the sources add, there is no intention to work behind Arafat's back.
Sharon's agreement is also needed for the Egyptian plan work. Israel's prime minister will have to give Arafat the perk of being able to move freely in the Gaza Strip; and he will have to acknowledge Arafat's power to impose control on the Gaza Strip, and thereby contribute to Arafat's political rejuvenation.
Trying to cajole Sharon to accept this, the Egyptians propose that Arafat's authority be diluted by encouraging the international Quartet to send professional experts to help build up a viable Palestinian security force; Mubarak proposes that this training force include 150-200 Egptian military "advisers," who will remain in Gaza until the Palestinian force is ready to assume control (that is, until it can be determined whether the initiative as a whole has worked).
Egypt demands that its forces not be faced by dangers from Palestinians.
Also, whether it is Israel's or the Palestinians' or the Quartet's perception, Egypt refuses to be seen as taking responsibility in the Gaza Strip.
Egypt is prepared to take steps to ensure that agreements reached between it and Israel, and between it and the Palestinian Authority and various Palestinian groups, be honored; but it will demand that Israel promise to refrain from hostile actions against the Palestinians as long as the initiative is on trial.
In this way, Egypt believes, Israel will be obligated to a multilateral agreement - to an agreement with Egypt, and to understandings reached between Egypt and the Palestinians with the Quartet's patronage.
Thus, should disengagement be carried out, it will appear to be a unlateral step, while actually being well-coordinated on many different levels. All this assumes, of course, that disengagement actually happens.
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