Ceasefire, For the Moment
Thu Dec 7, 2006 13:57
 

 
INSS Insight is published by
The Institute for National Security Studies

Ceasefire, For the Moment

Anat Kurz

On November 8, an errant IDF artillery shell intended to disrupt the launching of Qassam rockets landed in a residential area in Beit Hanoun and killed 23 Palestinians. That tragic result, which dramatized the distress to Gaza Strip residents caused by the constant escalation of violence, also prompted Prime Minister Ismail Haniya and Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas to renew negotiations on the guidelines for a National Unity Government. But after several weeks of discussions, differences over basic principles and division of authority remained unresolved. However, the urgency of relieving Israeli military pressure continued to grow and eventually overshadowed the need to relieve the economic sanctions that had been driving the unity discussions. Fatah, Hamas and other factions therefore agreed to a ceasefire. Abbas informed Israel that the factions had agreed to stop the firing of rockets from the Gaza Strip, suicide bombings, and the excavation of tunnels through which weapons were being smuggled in to Gaza, and Israel responded by halting its military operations in Gaza and withdrawing its forces from the area. The ceasefire came into effect on November 26.

These developments have altered the Israeli-Palestinian dynamic after months of escalating confrontation. They also reinforced Abbas’ representative stature both domestically and in Israeli eyes. However, they are not sufficient to ensure that the ceasefire will be entrenched and prolonged.

The understandings reached in principle between Israel and Abbas and between Abbas and the other Palestinian factions will not be translated immediately into a total relaxation of tensions. The inter-organizational agreement was reached without any binding link to the formation of a Unity Government and was in fact largely intended to prevent the Fatah-Hamas rivalry from sabotaging any halt to the violence, which both parties need after months of confrontation. But the effort to sweep their differences under the carpet may actually emerge as the main weak point of the ceasefire. Disagreements on division of powers, especially concerning control of the Interior Ministry and its affiliated security organs, will complicate and probably eliminate the chances of imposing the ceasefire on all the factions operating in Gaza.

Israel and the United States remain committed to Abbas as their partner in political and security matters, but the policy of distinguishing between the leading camps will further reduce the possibility, already slim, of building a central authority able to help preserve quiet. The supply of weapons to Fatah forces, for example, may well encourage them to hope that they can gain a decisive military outcome to the inter-organizational struggle. And without a reduction in inter-Palestinian tensions, it will be impossible to sustain or deepen any de-escalation in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Inter-organizational competition will also preclude a Unity Government and will guarantee, even if such a government is established, that it will not be able to concentrate on civilian reconstruction -- a condition for a sustained ceasefire.

Implementation of the ceasefire will depend on ongoing agreement among Palestinians. Abbas ostensibly secured that agreement but his ability to impose any policy on all the elements operating in the territories, including even the factions identified with Fatah, is clearly limited. In addition, the disintegration of institutional structures, which is particularly advanced in the case of Fatah, has also begun to characterize Hamas, and the breakdown of control over elements in the field will complicate the task of enforcing the ceasefire even if the two sides do work out a formal agreement on the division of powers and resources.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert declared that Israel would show restraint “in order to give the ceasefire a real chance.” But restraint will not last long in the face of recurring violations of the ceasefire, which appear to be almost inevitable given the Palestinian political reality. Blocking the smuggling of weapons into the territories is absolutely necessary to prevent the revitalization and buildup of militant elements, especially Hamas, in anticipation of another round of hostilities. But that will be practically impossible, certainly in the short-term and in a manner that will convince Israel that the ceasefire is not being violated.

To prevent provocations leading to Israeli reactions and a renewed cycle of violence and to forestall the emergence of future threats, the ceasefire needs to be anchored in a binding international framework. Perhaps an Egypt more determined than in the past could help block the flow of weapons into Gaza. It is also possible that the deployment of a multi-national force along the borders of Gaza could prevent violations. At the same time, Israeli incentives might help neutralize the public support among Palestinians for elements bent on reigniting the cycle of violence. For example, easing of the military pressure could be accompanied by the suspension of economic pressure and additional gestures, particularly the release of prisoners. Such gestures, in tandem with Palestinian gestures – first and foremost, the release of the abducted soldier, Gilad Shalit – and assiduous compliance with the ceasefire would signify a joint intention to change direction. However, actions and incentives of this sort to back up the principled decision to stop the violence are unlikely to appear before other developments signal the impending collapse of the ceasefire.

At the present time, Israel is alone in the military campaign to confront belligerent elements in the territories. Egypt has taken limited steps to block the flow of weapons to Gaza and the United States, for its part, has acted to strengthen the military capabilities of Fatah as a counterweight to Hamas. But those actions are insufficient to halt the dynamic of escalation, and although military pressure on the Palestinian Authority, if and when the ceasefire breaks down, will reduce the immediate operational capabilities of militant elements, it will do little to constrain their motivation to fight. In fact, the opposite is likely to be true. Heavier military pressure will also accelerate the disintegration of Palestinian civil systems and institutions and will certainly not encourage political moderation on the part of Hamas or other factions involved in the struggle against Israel. Given that the international quarantine of the Palestinian Authority is already showing signs of erosion, it will not be long before Israel also finds itself isolated in the political-economic theater of the confrontation.

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-------- Original Message --------
Subject: Ceasefire, For the Moment
Date: Thu, 7 Dec 2006 15:44:08 +0200
From: משה גרונדמן mosheg@INSS.ORG.IL
Reply-To: משה גרונדמן mosheg@INSS.ORG.IL
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ERRATUM

In INSS Insight No.1, the Prime Minister of Lebanon was erroneously

referred to as Hana Siniora. His correct name, of course, is Fuad Siniora.

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