Aswat Asharq Al-Awsat :
Ghassan Charbel
Editor-in-Chief of Aswat Asharq Al-Awsatt newspaper

Aswat Asharq Al-Awsat : The Specter of Returning from the War

Benjamin Netanyahu knows the story. The silence of the artillery will be more powerful than their sound.

He will stand naked before the arrows fired from all windows. They will have no mercy. The snakes will be set loose to bite him. They are the snakes of the opposition, partners in his coalition and the military and security institution. Accusations will be levelled against him, and investigation committees will be formed, perhaps even trials. He may even feel unsafe at some airports.

He will sense the end when the artillery goes silent. He promised them Rafah. He promised them the head of Yahya al-Sinwar and Mohammed al-Deif, the Qassam Brigades general. Yes, he may lay claim to many bodies, but not the heads that may tame the anger of those prowling around him. That is why he is insisting on separating the truce from ending the war.

Sinwar will find it difficult to recognize Gaza should the artillery go silent. Netanyahu destroyed it beyond recognition, rendering it unlivable. Sinwar is aware that questions will be asked from the camp and other organizations. They will be asked by Arab and international countries. Some will compare the number of Palestinian prisoners, who will be released, to the sea of corpses left behind by Israel. He will definitely hear harsh words.

It will be said that one of the outcomes of the war is the elimination of Gaza’s military potential. It will be said that the solution lies in launching the two-state solution that Hamas opposes because it hinges on recognizing a Palestinian state living side by side by Israel, which in turn will reap more international guarantees.

I turned to a man who is closely monitoring the ceasefire negotiations. He said the last ten days have been difficult, intense and complicated. I paused at his remarks that “the mediators’ task was more difficult even though searching for a ceasefire is easier than ending the war”. Ending the war at this moment effectively means the warring parties would not have achieved any clear victory.

The man said the American administration had exerted serious and continuous pressure on Netanyahu when it sensed that he was trying to expand and prolong the war. He noticed that Washington was not leaving any room for Hamas in the discussions over the next phase, and that it was incapable of withstanding the possibility of a horrific massacre taking place in Rafah.

Pressure is also being exerted by America’s friends, allies and university students. Debate is raging within parties, the international public and the upcoming US presidential elections. America clearly doesn’t want Netanyahu and his allies, Hamas and Sinwar and his tunnels and rockets in the picture after the war is over.

Netanyahu will seek justifications when the artillery goes silent. He will say that he was not the first to fire the first shot in this war, pinning the blame on Sinwar instead. He will stress that the Israeli strikes have heavily – if not completely – destroyed Hamas’ military capabilities. He will claim that the war effectively eliminated Gaza as a threat to Israel. He will assert that Israel has reclaimed its deterrence power in Gaza and the region, especially in trading blows with Iran.

Should the artillery go silent, Sinwar can claim that Hamas waged the longest Arab-Israeli war and made endless sacrifices. He will say that the Al-Aqsa Flood operation reminded the world of the endless injustice endured by the Palestinians. It has reminded the West of the need to address this injustice and reach a fair solution. Sinwar will say that Hamas was a plant that was born and grew in Gaza, meaning dismissing its leaderships will in no way mean the movement has been uprooted. That is why Hamas is hanging on to ending the war, not reaching a ceasefire, which only puts the conflict on hold.

There are many questions that Sinwar needs to confront. Does Hamas have an alternative to Gaza? Can it, for example, turn to the West Bank? Or southern Lebanon which had paid dearly in the past for taking in the Palestine Liberation Organization? Can he go back to Damascus? And what cloak will he wear there: “Syrian Syria” or “Iranian Syria”? It is difficult to imagine that he would go back to Jordan, simply because Jordan, given its past experience and the experience of its neighbors, categorically refuses to be involved and has been frank in saying it.

Another truth has come to the light in wake of the contacts that have taken place in recent days: America is the main player that can end the war and that Russia and China are very much out of the picture. America is devising plans for a major change in regional balances, encompassed in a security agreement with Saudi Arabia that may be coupled with the normalization of relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel. This hinges on reaching an agreement on a credible path that leads to the establishment of a Palestinian state within a few years.

What about Iran? What will it have to say if Gaza is taken out of the “Resistance Axis” and America’s vision of a solution begins to gain ground? Will Iran coexist with the changes and make do with its current influence in the four Arab capitals, or will it seek a fifth?

How difficult it is to return from war without claiming any victory. The massive losses will make such a statement difficult to process. Gaza was the scene of a massive eradication operation of people and buildings. However, the balances of power are little affected by rivers of blood. They impose themselves rudely and brutally.

The absence of a “knockout blow” makes the end of the war difficult to those who waged it. Netanyahu has spent long years getting creative in assassinating everything that could lead to the establishment of a Palestinian state and here he is now being confronted by demands for the rise of this state.

Sinwar spent long years dreaming of the elimination of Israel and reclaiming every inch of Palestinian land. Now, he has to listen to the world say that the establishment of a Palestinian state hinges on living side by side with Israel.

The question remains, will a ceasefire mean the war is firmly over?