“The day after” is the current buzz phrase in political circles. It refers to the period immediately after Hamas has been well and truly dislodged from the governance of the Gaza Strip.  While ideas abound as to what could or should take over, it is true to say that absolutely no steps seem to have been taken to realize any of them.

            On Friday, May 31 US President Joe Biden took the initiative.

   “It’s time for this war to end,” he announced, “and for ‘the day after’ to begin.”

   He proceeded to outline what he termed “an approved Israeli proposal” made up of three phases which would lead to a return of all the hostages, alive and dead, a “cessation of hostilities permanently” and, on “the day after”, the rebuilding of Gaza without Hamas in power.

The office of prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu confirmed that he had “authorized negotiators to present proposals for the return of hostages held in Gaza.”

            Meanwhile the date draws ever closer for Netanyahu to avert, or to accept, minister Benny Gantz’s threat to resign from the coalition government over the lack of decision.

   It was on May 18 that Gantz told a press conference he wanted Netanyahu, by June 8 at the latest, to commit to an agreed vision for what would follow the Gaza conflict.  It would include stipulating how the territory would be administered, and by whom, the day after the war with Hamas was declared over.  

Gantz wanted the war cabinet to draw up a six-point plan, and if his expectations are not met, he said, he will withdraw his centrist party with its 12 Knesset seats from the government.  His exit would not topple the coalition – it would be left with 64 out of 120 Knesset seats – but would shake it severely, perhaps to extinction.

On May 30, pre-empting his own ultimatum, Gantz’s National Unity Party, in collaboration with other opposition parties, submitted a bill in the Knesset to dissolve parliament.  If passed, this would mean a general election within months.

Not generally known is that on May 15, the day before Gantz’s announcement, defense minister Yoav Gallant had demanded clarity on post-war plans, insisting that Netanyahu abandon any military reoccupation of Gaza – a concept the prime minister had said might be necessary for an unspecified period after the war.

For Netanyahu to renounce totally the idea of any Israeli presence in Gaza on “the day after” would almost certainly alienate ultra-nationalist parties that have gone so far as to call for Gaza to be annexed and settled. They are also unlikely to endorse Biden’s new initiative.   However losing them from the coalition would not, as was once thought, be the coup de grace for Netanyahu’s government.  On June 1, in the light of Biden’s announcement, opposition leader Yair Lapid vowed to back Netanyahu if he proceeds with a ceasefire and exchange deal.

The problem with Gantz’s “day after” vision is that no Arab state, individually or collectively, has yet produced any plan or strategy to manage the fallout from the war, to participate in any “day after” administration of Gaza, or to support Palestinian statehood.  Arab states in general, and the Abraham Accord states in particular, have had to tread a precarious path since October 7.  Arab popular opinion is overwhelmingly supportive of Hamas and opposed to Israel’s incursion into Gaza, and Arab governments, though content enough to see Iran and its allies under fire, have been careful to avoid endorsing Israel’s military campaign.

The prestigious UK think tank, Chatham House, believes that regional Arab states should work together in support of Palestinians.  “The time for states to act is now,” they write.

They explain that so far these Arab states have relied on the US-led efforts at brokering a ceasefire-focused plan, and have accordingly refused to discuss “day after” reconstruction or political or security scenarios.

“Those states,” says Chatham House, “…refuse to bankroll reconstruction efforts without guarantees that Israel will not initiate further bombing cycles.”  Clearly believing that Hamas in some form is likely to still be in existence after the war, “only with a ceasefire in hand,” they say, “will they [the Arab states] begin considerations of their part in the complex political settlement process. This strategy, however, is fraught with risks that could delay any potential prospect of peace – including further deferring the broader vision of regional integration that had included Israel…Investment in “the day after” must begin today.”

The US shares this view. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken told a Senate committee hearing last week:  “It is imperative not only that the conflict in Gaza ends as soon as possible, but that Israel comes forward with a clear plan for how Gaza is going to be governed, secured, redeveloped,”  Without that, he said, Israel would face unacceptable options: long-term military occupation and insurgency, the return of Hamas, or anarchy and lawlessness.

The US is pressuring Arab states to agree an international force that could establish security in Gaza in the short term. The US would not put its own troops on the ground, but wants countries including Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Bahrain and the UAE to do so instead.

The fly in that ointment is that these countries have made clear they would take part only if the West recognized the state of Palestine, that there was an agreed pathway to a two-state solution, and they came at the invitation of some kind of Palestinian leadership. That could only mean the Palestinian Authority in some form or other, and Netanyahu has ruled the PA out as a partner in any sort of “day after” strategy.

One Arab diplomat is quoted by the BBC as saying:  “The day after cannot be separated from the political process.  It must be part of a comprehensive package. No-one will put one foot on the ground unless there is a political process.”

Some Arab states feel – reversing the commonly-held view – that normalizing diplomatic relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia may be key to getting Israel’s agreement to a wider political settlement. There is discussion, too, about what role Turkey could play, using its leverage over Hamas to agree some kind of post-war deal. 

         But the idea of Hamas having any say at all about the future of Gaza runs totally counter to the political consensus within Israel. Until Hamas has been completely disempowered, both militarily and politically, and removed forever from playing any role in the administration of the Gaza Strip, there can be no “day after”.

By Neville Teller

Neville Teller’s latest book is “"Trump and the Holy Land: 2016-2020". He has written about the Middle East for more than 30 years, has published five books on the subject, and blogs at www.a-mid-east-journal.blogspot.com. Born in London and a graduate of Oxford University, he is also a long-time dramatist, writer and abridger for BBC radio and for the UK audiobook industry. He was made an MBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours, 2006 "for services to broadcasting and to drama."