Ghassan Charbel
Editor-in-Chief of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper

The Sufferings of the ‘Next Day’

The “next day” is an expression that has been haunting us for weeks. While it is still general and ambiguous, its features will most likely consist of a number of elements.
Those will be determined by the questions raised by the Al-Aqsa Flood operation launched by Hamas on October 7th; by the results of the Iron Swords that Israel unleashed in response to the unprecedented attack in the history of confrontations between Israel and the Palestinian organizations; and by the conclusions that the major powers have drawn from this war, which is taking place on the verge of a widespread regional collapse.
The expression is ambiguous because the war is still open; because expanding the killing for additional weeks may change its current features or consolidate them.
The Arab ministers have so far refused to talk about the “next day”, considering that the priority must be an immediate cessation of the war. This does not negate the fact that the phrase is raised in official meetings and repeated in diplomatic corridors. The “next day” is coming, no matter how late.

Washington is trying to chart the features of that day. It intervened to prevent the Gaza war from turning into a regional war. It provided Israel with unlimited military support. It also offered it political and diplomatic backing, reaching a provocative position by thwarting a draft ceasefire resolution in the Security Council despite the massacre of civilians and children. Washington is moving to revive the two-state solution and exclude Hamas from the scene of the “next day.”
Positions and remarks showed that no one has a detailed and clear vision of the stage that will follow the cessation of the war in Gaza. There are those who believe that the phrase clearly means another Gaza, in which Hamas is neither armed nor in leadership position. But the expression becomes more ambiguous when talking about alternatives.
Will Israel return to occupying the Gaza Strip and installing a civil administration there? It is an option that the major powers oppose and consider a kind of return to experimenting with what has been tried. In addition, the position of President Mahmoud Abbas is clear and categorical: the Palestinian Authority will neither intervene on board Israeli tanks, nor will it assume any role in a scenario that separates the fate of Gaza from that of the West Bank, without a practical mechanism for the establishment of an independent Palestinian state.
The Palestinian Authority is unwilling to play an incomplete and dangerous role, and is also incapable of it. Moreover, it is clear that there is no room for an Arab role on the land of Gaza the “next day”, unless in the context of the establishment of an independent state. As for resorting to an international force to administer Gaza, Israel will reject it in light of its experience in South Lebanon.
Among the informed diplomats are those who believe that the “next day” will begin with disappointments and bitterness. Israel’s success in destroying Gaza will not exempt it from the painful hour of obligations. Successive Israeli governments conducted a series of wars to assassinate the project of an independent Palestinian state before it was born. It contributed to the marginalization of the Authority and the launching of settlements to devour Palestinian land.
Israel acted on the basis that the Palestinian state was like a massive explosive device that would be planted in its side. Today, it is evident that Washington, which supports Israel in shaping the features of the next phase, requires opening the political horizon by supporting the option of an independent Palestinian state.
This option necessitates an Israeli partner, who does not resemble Netanyahu and his government. This means that the “next day” will inevitably see a change in Israel that goes beyond names and parties to strategic choices. But can new Israeli elections produce a government capable of drinking the poison of an independent Palestinian state away from the greed of confiscating lands in what Israel calls “Judea and Samaria”?
The rifts that “the next day” will raise in Israeli street will also be acutely felt in Palestinian society, especially in Gaza. In 2017, Hamas agreed to the principle of establishing an independent Palestinian state on the lands of 1967, but refrained from recognizing the other state.
Anyone who observes international positions will easily conclude that the establishment of a Palestinian state will certainly be conditional on its recognition of the State of Israel and its abandonment of anything that could constitute a threat to the Hebrew state, that is, weapons or some of their types.
Can Hamas, in light of its nature and ideologies, accept a state with these conditions? Did the group unleash the Al-Aqsa Flood in order to later disappear from the scene? What about its solid nucleus? What about its allies?
Some people believe that Hamas will find itself facing painful choices the next day. One diplomat reminded me of what happened in 2009 after one of Israel’s rounds of destruction in Gaza. The late Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak held an international conference in Sharm El-Sheikh to rebuild what was destroyed. Billions of dollars were promised at the conference. The diplomat said that the billions did not arrive because Hamas stipulated that it maintain its presence at the Gaza crossings and supervise the reconstruction process. He added: “The reconstruction of Gaza will be impossible the next day if Hamas remains the dominant force in the Strip.”
The next day will raise big questions. Can Israel be a normal state with final borders away from old claims? Can it live near an independent Palestinian state? Political blindness prompted Israeli governments to assassinate two opportunities for a settlement. The first is the Oslo Accords, and the second, the Arab Peace Initiative. This political blindness has encircled Israel with an explosive belt that is beginning to explode here and there. “The next day” will pose difficult questions for the Palestinians themselves.
One day, the late great poet Mahmoud Darwish was recalling his sorrows in Paris. I asked him about Oslo, and he replied that the settlement “is like descending from the tree of dreams into the coldness of reality and the balance of power.” “It also means less dreams and less land.” He added: “We offered the other to accept him and share the country, but he insists on expelling us from it.”
How difficult it is to compromise when it comes to dreams and land! For this reason, the “next day” journey will not be easy, but rather burdened with pain and tears. That day will reveal the horror of the massacre committed on the land of Gaza. The expression remains ambiguous, and the war is still open.