The False Hope of a Gaza Ceasefire
JNS.org – Reports out of the Gaza Strip just keep coming. News of the escalation along Israel’s border and concerns that Gaza’s economy is on the brink of collapse have replaced reports that a ceasefire with Hamas that would bring quiet to Israel’s southern border was near.
According to reports in the media, Hamas conveyed to Israel a few months ago its desire to engage in negotiations for a long-term “hudna” — or temporary cessation of war. As part of the framework of this ceasefire, Israel and Egypt would end their blockade of the coastal enclave and allow the transfer of funds to rehabilitate the Gaza economy. Hamas would then return Israeli two citizens that are being held captive by the terrorist group, as well as the bodies of the two Israeli soldiers killed in 2014’s Operation Protective Edge. We have further learned from these media reports that Israel, having refrained from responding to Hamas’ overtures, is the one dragging its feet on the completion of the proposed deal.
The idea of a ceasefire is nothing new. In 2003, Hamas founder Sheikh Ahmed Yassin offered a 10-year hudna in return for Israel’s complete withdrawal to the 1967 borders. The establishment of a Palestinian state on the entirety of territory held by Israel since the 1967 Six Day War was not enough for the terrorist organization to recognize Israel’s existence, let alone reach a peace deal with it.
It is no coincidence that Hamas uses the term “hudna.” It is a concept anchored in the Islamic tradition that refers to a temporary cessation of jihad against the infidels when they have the upper hand. Its purpose is not a perpetual peace, but to allow Muslims to regroup and prepare for further fighting. Hamas hopes to float the idea of a hudna not just as an expression of its Islamic identity, but also of its lack of willingness to reach a peace deal with or even recognize Israel. At the same time, use of the term emphasizes the group’s commitment to the continued historical struggle against Israel, just not at this specific point in time.
For ideological reasons, Hamas is not interested in engaging in direct negotiations with Israel. As a result, this dialogue has been entrusted to Arab mediators with their own interests, for whom taking Gaza off the agenda in the short term is worth the price of a violent conflict in a few years’ time. After all, the terror tunnels and rockets are not directed at Doha or Cairo.
It is difficult to imagine Hamas or Hezbollah, which has also maintained relative quiet on the Israel-Lebanon border over the last decade, publicly renouncing their opposition to and struggle against Israel. It is also difficult to see Hamas imposing such a position on the various factions that operate inside Gaza, or abandoning its stockpile of missiles and the military power it has accumulated.
A hudna with Hamas would be a blow to the Palestinian Authority that would send the message to the international community that any financial investment in Gaza should henceforth go through the sovereign and legitimate ruler of Gaza: Hamas.
In an interview with Lebanon’s Al Mayadeen television station just last week, Hamas’ Gaza leader Yahya Sinwar praised the terrorist organization’s ties to Hezbollah, which he said were better than ever, as well as Hamas’ growing ties with Iran’s Revolutionary Guard and Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani.
An unofficial and shaky hudna has been in place between Hamas and Israel since the 2014 war. Israel’s policy is to ensure that the border remains quiet, even if that means allowing Hamas to remain in power in Gaza.
Israel can and should continue with this policy, and reinforce the mutual understandings as pertains to the quiet on the border. As evidence of this understanding, it should be noted that even during the riots along the border, Hamas avoided launching rockets at Israel. The Jewish state must promote projects that bypass Hamas and help stabilize the economic situation in Gaza. But in the end, we must know that nothing can ever come of a hudna.
Eyal Zisser is a lecturer in the Middle East History Department at Tel Aviv University.