The day after

Abdel-Moneim Said
Tuesday 4 Jun 2024

As the situation stands at present, there are several competing visions for the “day after” in Gaza

 

Since the outset of the crisis some refer to as the fifth Gazan war, the US has repeatedly brought up the subject of the “day after” the cessation of hostilities. Washington’s strategic purpose is to remind the belligerents – Hamas and its allies and Israel and its allies – that the war is not the end of the road, especially if a definitive victory continues to elude both sides while the human and material losses mount, and their international standing and domestic circumstances worsen and grow even more complicated than they are already. Factoring the future into military equations helps diplomacy and political action become more effective as it forces the belligerents to consider opportunities they could seize or risks they could avoid.

As the situation stands at present, there are several competing visions for the “day after.” The Israeli vision is premised on inflicting an overwhelming defeat on Hamas enabling Israel to assert complete control over Gaza. The “day after” opens with Israeli-controlled buffer zones followed by the installation of administrative structures and staffs, whose salaries would be footed by the Palestinian National Authority (PNA), to govern education, health and security affairs. In so doing, Israel would effectively renege on its obligations under the Oslo Accords. In the process, it would also be creating more settlements.

Hamas, too, envisions a victory, one claimed on the basis that Israel failed to achieve its stated objective of eliminating Hamas. It will drive this home by showing that it can still fire missiles into Israel and continue to rule Gaza while preventing a return of the PLO to the Strip. Towards this end it would conclude a deal to hand over the hostages in exchange for the withdrawal of Israeli forces and agree to a two-state solution without recognising Israel.

The Arab vision was articulated by nine countries, the six Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries plus Egypt, Jordan, and Morocco, all of which have peace treaties or normalisation agreements with Israel. It calls for a total ceasefire and a hostage/prisoner swap between Hamas and Israel. The process would start with a temporary truce to set into motion the hostage/prisoner exchanges, which would take place over several stages, with larger numbers of hostages and prisoners exchanged in each successive stage to promote the durability of the ceasefire. Also, in accord with this vision, the PNA would be reinvigorated and equipped to administer both the West Bank and Gaza.

The US endorses the broad outlines of the Arab vision for the establishment of peace and security in the Middle East through arrangements between the Palestinians, Arabs and Israel. Washington hopes to promote three deals. The first is “normalisation for peace” whereby a Saudi-Israeli rapprochement would reward Israel with normal relations with Riyadh in exchange for a credible path towards the establishment of a Palestinian state. The second would set into motion the comprehensive reconstruction of Gaza by Arab states and international agencies in exchange for the rehabilitation of a unified PNA over the West Bank and Gaza. The third deal would function at the bilateral level and provide that, in exchange for normalisation with Israel, Saudi Arabia would be guaranteed security under a formal arrangement, approved by Congress and along the lines of the security agreements the US concludes with its other allies.   

Unfortunately, despite the many political and diplomatic actions, media pressures, efforts on the part of UN organisations (the Security Council, the General Assembly, the International Court of Justice, and the International Criminal Court), the fifth Gaza war is about to enter its ninth month with no sign of abating.

Judging from previous US efforts, Washington is currently focused on deescalating the war by pressuring Israel to make its current drive in Rafah its last. US experts now believe that Israel will not be able to eliminate Hamas but that it has managed to degrade the Palestinian movement’s military capacities, which success will be crowned by destroying Hamas’ four remaining battalions in Rafah. Simultaneously, Washington is pushing for resumption of the Egyptian and Qatari mediated truce negotiations based on what has been achieved so far in the hope of opening a horizon to relative calm in the coming weeks. Regarding the bilateral security relationship with Riyadh, the two sides are aiming for a formula that is not as strong as the US’ defence commitment to Japan but stronger than its defence commitment to Taiwan. Finally, once peace is established, the US will work together with the Arab states to support the PNA economically, in security affairs, and in reconstruction.

Several factors could jeopardise progress in the foregoing areas. One is time: as the US presidential elections approach, both Israel and Hamas are playing the “Trump card” in order to perpetuate their current positions and undermine Biden’s steps. Secondly, as none of these steps would allow a continued political role for Hamas, Hamas, with Iranian support, will do what it can to thwart them. Thirdly, many obstacles could obstruct efforts to promote a unified Palestinian stance with the necessary speed.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 6 June, 2024 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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