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Al-Makahleh: The New Regional Order on the “Day After” the War

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Dr.  Shehab Al-Makahleh

As negotiations, dialogue, and discussions take place in closed circles regarding the future of Gaza, it is evident that the plans and perceptions for the “day after” the war extend beyond the Palestinian issue to the future of the entire region. The United States, in particular, seeks to establish arrangements that secure American, Western, and Israeli interests while solidifying alliances in the face of regional challenges. However, the American perceptions of the post-Gaza era are still in the process of maturity, bargaining, and discussion.

The aftermath of war is a complex and delicate matter, particularly when considering the future of Gaza. The scale of destruction and the shifting nature of the conflict make it challenging to plan for reconstruction and address the governance of the post-Hamas territory. Yet, these discussions are crucial, as they determine who will assume responsibility for managing the ruins, comforting the mourning population, and charting a path forward when the guns eventually fall silent.

Despite the intricacies inherent in this undertaking, it is incumbent upon the international community to engage earnestly in this crucial discourse. The involvement of key actors, particularly the United States and Arab nations, is a starting point. Their commitment to this process, though still in its nascent stages, holds promise for tangible progress. However, the notable absence of Europe from assuming a substantive role is a cause for concern, as its participation and contributions would be invaluable in shaping a comprehensive and inclusive framework for post-Hamas governance.

The time for action is now. The international community must recognize the urgency and gravity of the situation at hand. Fostering a robust and concerted dialogue that transcends vague processes is essential. By embracing a collective approach and drawing upon the diverse perspectives and expertise of all relevant stakeholders, we can forge a path forward that ensures the stability, security, and prosperity of the region.

Currently, Israel remains singularly focused on its military operation, aware that its fate is intertwined with the outcome of this war. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, cautious of alienating the far-right elements to which he is politically tied, refrains from delineating a clear vision for the future. He emphasizes the overarching security responsibility that Israel perceives itself to have in Gaza, citing the consequences of relinquishing control. While Netanyahu does not advocate for the recolonization of Gaza, an aspiration harbored by extreme religious right factions since 2005, he is unwilling to commit to a specific timeframe for the military campaign’s conclusion.

In this context, the question arises: Who will step in to shoulder the responsibility of Gaza’s governance, reconstruction, and rehabilitation once the immediate conflict subsides? Currently, the United States and Arab countries are engaged in a vague process of deliberation. However, Europe’s involvement remains limited, with no significant role being played thus far. The question of Gaza’s future demands swift and comprehensive attention, not only to address the pressing humanitarian needs but also to ensure long-term stability in the region.

It is essential to learn from the lessons of history, particularly the failure of numerous proposals in Syria over the course of 12 years of civil war. The complexities and multifaceted nature of conflicts such as these necessitate a nuanced and holistic approach, one that goes beyond short-term ceasefires or humanitarian pauses. The key lies in developing sustainable political and security solutions that address the root causes of the conflict and pave the way for a just and lasting peace.

While the immediate priority is a ceasefire, it is crucial to concurrently initiate discussions on Gaza’s future. The international community must actively engage in shaping a comprehensive vision that includes participation from all relevant stakeholders. This process should incorporate the voices and aspirations of the Palestinian people, who have endured immense suffering and deserve a future of dignity, stability, and self-determination.

The question of what lies ahead for Gaza has come to the forefront of discussions held by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and his counterparts in the Middle East. However, some Arab leaders deem this reflection premature. Their immediate concern remains achieving a ceasefire in Gaza, where Israeli airstrikes have resulted in a devastating loss of life. Skepticism lingers that the United States is leveraging long-term discussions to buy time for Israel to complete its military operation. This dilemma evokes painful memories for seasoned diplomats, reminding them of the numerous failed proposals that failed to bring about political or security solutions during Syria’s prolonged civil war.

The initial ideas put forth by the Biden administration, which aimed to replace regional peace with a political settlement and encourage normalization projects, have dissipated. The administration seems to lack a vision or project for a peaceful solution. It is clear that regional matters and the formation of alliances to protect regional security necessitate a parallel path to peaceful settlement. However, new and convincing ideas in this field are yet to be presented, except for the integration of Israel into the region, regional peace, and the reconstruction of Gaza.

Regarding the final solution for peace settlement, it is unlikely that the Biden team will present anything significantly different from what the Trump administration proposed in the “deal of the century.” At best, the Biden administration may offer a Palestinian state without sovereignty, lacking an army, borders, or options similar to the recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of the Palestinian state.

On January 4, 2024, Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant’s recent announcement about Israel’s plans for the next phaseof its assault on the Gaza Strip and future scenarios for the day after the war ends carries significant importance and offers insights into Israel’s intentions. According to Gallant, Hamas would no longer control Gaza, and Israel would reserve its operational freedom of action. However, he emphasized that there would be no Israeli civilian presence, and Palestinian bodies would be in charge of the enclave. Gallant’s office stated, “Gaza residents are Palestinian, therefore Palestinian bodies will be in charge, with the condition that there will be no hostile actions or threats against the State of Israel.”

The statement by Gallant highlights Israel’s desire for a “Palestinian entity” to assume responsibility for the civilian affairs in the Gaza Strip, but under “very specific conditions.” These conditions underscore that the Palestinian entity should not act in a hostile manner towards Israel or take any actions against it.

Israel’s vision for the future of Gaza also involves the establishment of a “multi-national task force” comprising Western and Arab nations as part of a restructuring plan. This indicates Israel’s intent to involve international actors in the post-war phase, potentially to ensure stability and security.

This announcement by Gallant provides insights into Israel’s approach and expectations for the future of the Gaza Strip. It reflects Israel’s intention to reshape the governance structure of Gaza, with the aim of reducing Hamas control and ensuring a Palestinian entity that aligns with Israel’s security interests. However, the success of such a vision depends on the willingness of Palestinian bodies to accept these conditions and the international community’s support for Israel’s proposed restructuring plan.

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu seems to be stalling for time, maneuvering with the Biden government, and attempting to extend the war until his right-wing American ally, Donald Trump, returns to power. Meanwhile, American, Western, and Arab ideas have updated to address the necessity of renewing the Palestinian Authority and making fundamental changes within it. However, significant differences persist between international and regional parties regarding the West Bank-Gaza connection, the return of authority, and the future of Hamas.

The plan faces obstacles similar to those encountered in the past. Palestinian leaders find it challenging to agree to such a plan, and the Western and American bet now lies in the severity of the humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza, the weakening of the authority, extreme tension, and settlement behavior in the West Bank. This may force Palestinian leaders to accept lower borders than previously envisioned. However, the Israeli right’s dilemma remains greater, as the Netanyahu government refuses to withdraw from Gaza or allow the return of the Palestinian Authority. Netanyahu continues to undermine the authority’s presence and has openly criticized the Oslo Accords, reflecting the prevailing political doctrine of the majority movement in Israel. This leads to a two-state solution.

Biden’s greatest challenge lies in dealing with the Netanyahu government. The former’s plan has not succeeded in taming the latter, despite generous support after the recent escalation. It remains uncertain how serious the Biden administration is in pressuring Netanyahu to reduce the right-wing elements in his government or potentially arranging early elections in Israel. Netanyahu, on the other hand, is betting on Donald Trump’s return to the White House, making stalling for time and maneuvering with the Biden government his best option. The best-case scenario might be a Palestinian state without full sovereignty, lacking an army, borders, or similar options to the recognition of Jerusalem as the capital.

In the new regional arrangements, there is a growing American tendency to give Saudi Arabia a greater role and broader space, whether in the Palestinian file, reconstruction efforts, or as one of the pillars of the envisioned new regional order. Even in the ongoing negotiations with Iran regarding the nuclear file, American academics and researchers are advocating for a stronger Saudi role. This signifies a significant shift in the approach towards Saudi Arabia and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

The Biden administration initially faced challenges and crises in its relationship with Saudi Arabia, including deep-rooted concerns. Similar concerns existed during the Obama administration, stemming from profound American reviews following the events of September 11, 2001. However, these concerns are gradually dissipating as the United States recognizes the importance of Saudi Arabia’s role in the region. This shift in perspective is not limited to the Democratic Party but extends to the Republican Party, as evidenced by the close relations established between Saudi Arabia and the Trump administration, with Saudi Arabia nearly becoming a party to the Abrahamic Accords.

As the region undergoes transformations, Saudi Arabia’s potential contribution to the Palestinian issue, reconstruction efforts, and regional stability should not be underestimated. The United States and its allies must carefully consider Saudi Arabia’s role and actively engage with the country to achieve a sustainable and just regional order.

The road ahead may be fraught with challenges, but the urgency to act cannot be overstated. The international community, led by the United States, must commit to meaningful dialogue and concerted efforts to find a path forward. Only through a collective and inclusive approach can we hope to navigate the complexities of Gaza’s post-war future and lay the groundwork for a just and sustainable peace in the region. Nonetheless, the imperative to engage in this debate is paramount. Presently, the United States and Arab nations have initiated a nebulous process, while Europe, regrettably, remains conspicuously absent from assuming a significant role.

The task of addressing the future governance of the region following Hamas’s influence is by no means a straightforward endeavor. The Islamist movement’s adaptable and multifarious nature renders its complete eradication an intricate pursuit. Israel, driven by a desire to eliminate this threat, faces a formidable task that demands careful consideration and strategic planning.

The complexities surrounding the governance of the post-Hamas territory demand our unwavering focus and commitment. This is not a time for hesitation or complacency. Rather, it is a call to action, urging the international community, with the United States and Arab nations at the forefront, to engage resolutely in this vital discourse. Europe must heed the clarion call and assume its rightful place in shaping a future that ensures stability, security, and prosperity for all. By working together, we can transcend vague processes and forge a path towards a brighter and more harmonious future in the region.