Jan 20 2009

The four flaws in the Israeli ceasefire

Published by at 1:00 am under Articles,Palestinian politics

NY Times Blog
JANUARY 19, 2009, 12:04 PM
Four Flaws in the Israeli Cease-Fire

Daoud Kuttab is a Palestinian journalist and former professor of journalism at Princeton University. He has been part of a continuing discussion in Room for Debate on the war in Gaza.

While the Egyptian government has succeeded in pulling a rabbit out of its hat in getting the short-term truce supported by Palestinian militants, the result is far short of any serious cease-fire agreement. The unilateral cease-fire declared by Israel and followed 12 hours later by the Palestinians lacks four basic components that any lasting cease-fire must include. The declarations were not multilateral; the cease-fire lacks an independent monitor; no prisoners on either side were released; and there appears no serious effort for a political process that can address the demands of the Gazan fighters.

The Israeli defense minister, Ehud Barak, is famous for his statement that it takes two to tango. The same principle applies to the cessation of violence. The Israelis might think that since they began the attack on their own they can end it on their own. But if a cease-fire is to be “durable and lasting,” as the White House has called for, it requires an Arab partner that has the ability to make it work.

Israel’s blind refusal to recognize Hamas as its interlocutor has forced them to carry out the unusual step of declaring a unilateral cease-fire while encouraging Egypt to get Hamas and the other guerrilla movements to abide by it. It is hard to see how this roundabout way will last if the Islamic movement has little incentive to honor an agreement that fails to call them by name. While Hamas seems to be moving slowly from a de facto recognition of its occupier to a de jure one, the Israelis are arrogantly refusing to recognize their new enemies in Gaza. Years earlier Israel had declared the P.L.O. a terrorist organization and then began a peace process with it.

Lasting cease-fire agreements require monitoring. Last year the Egyptian government sponsored a tahdiya — a sort of truce between Israel and Hamas which was haphazardly adhered to. Both sides blame the other for violating it, leading to conflicting narratives to justify the current deadly assault.

“While Hamas seems to be moving slowly from a de facto recognition of its occupier to a de jure one, the Israelis are arrogantly refusing to recognize their new enemies in Gaza.”
Israel claims that Hamas has kept firing Qassam rockets on Israeli civilian populations. Hamas counters that Israel has killed nearly 100 Palestinians during the so-called quiet period. They also say that Israel failed to lift the choking land and sea blockade. (Ironically, Israel considered the Nasser blockade in May 1967 an act of war which justified Israel’s occupation of Gaza and Sinai in June 1967.) With the Israelis deciding when to allow journalists into occupied Gaza and which ones, the current Israeli cease-fire declaration means that there are no independent monitors. This conveniently allows the Israelis to spin the narrative they want if the cease-fire is broken.

Had Israel wanted a textbook cease-fire agreement it could have also won the release of its captured soldier, Gilad Shalit. Almost all cease-fire agreements include a clause of some prisoner exchange. Israel currently holds thousands of Palestinians, including elected members of the Palestinian Legislative Council, who are held without charge or trial. Gazan families have not seen their loved ones for years because of the blockade and because Israel is holding the prisoners inside Israel in violation of the fourth Geneva Convention, which stipulated that prisoners are not allowed to be moved to the occupying power’s country.

Also in violation of international law, the Hamas militants are denying Shalit family visitations or even visits by the International Red Cross. Before the current fighting, Hamas and Israel were involved in negotiations through third parties about some sort of prisoner exchange. This cease-fire could have been a perfect opportunity for such an exchange. Shalit’s father demanded as much but the Israeli government’s desire (on the eve of elections) to appear totally victorious left both Shalit and Palestinian prisoners from gaining their freedom.

Historically, cease-fires have never succeeded unless vigorous negotiations were initiated simultaneously. Without a political solution, the roots of the problems that caused the violence will continue to perpetuate the cycle of violence. The blockade on Gaza and the status of the strip need to be resolved. U.N. Security Council Resolution 1860 reaffirmed that Gaza is still an occupied territory and therefore Israelis must end the occupation in a multilateral manner.

Israel was able to start the war on Gaza and has decided to end its offensive attacks unilaterally without lifting the siege or releasing prisoners. Without a partner on the Arab side, neutral monitors and a robust political process, it is highly unlikely that this unilateral cease-fire will last very long.

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