The Palestinian "Temporary Cease-Fire": - Israel´s Political Risks and Opportunities with the Sharm el-Sheikh Summit (JCPA-JERUSALEM CENTER FOR PUBLIC AFFAIRS) JERUSALEM ISSUE BRIEF Vol. 4, No. 16 Lt. Col. Jonathan D. Halevi 02/07/05)
JCPA-Jerusalem Center Public Affairs
JCPA-Jerusalem Center Public Affairs Articles-Index-Top
The Palestinian "Temporary Cease-Fire": Israel´s Political Risks and
Opportunities with the Sharm el-Sheikh Summit between Prime Minister
Sharon and Chairman Mahmud Abbas (Abu Mazen)The election of Mahmud Abbas (Abu Mazen), along with Israel´s
political and military pressure, has brought about a change in the
Palestinian Authority´s policy on continuing the "armed intifada."
At the same time, the paramount interest of Hamas and Islamic Jihad
is to reorganize and rebuild their capabilities after they were
severely degraded by the Israel Defense Forces.
The "calm" that the terror organizations are supplying is aimed
primarily at enabling the Palestinian Authority to negotiate a hudna
(cessation of hostilities) with Israel from a more comfortable
political position in which the political "ball" is in Israel´s
The hudna offered by the Palestinians has two main aspects: that
it be mutually obligatory, and that it be conditional on Israel´s
performance with regard to a long list of Palestinian demands
(releasing prisoners, ceasing military actions in the PA
territories, removing checkpoints, resolving the status of wanted
fugitives, stopping the construction of the security fence, etc.).
According to the expanded Palestinian concept of
hudna, "resistance to occupation" remains legitimate, along with a
readiness to renew the struggle against Israel simultaneously with
the opening of political channels.
While the opportunities presented by the new political reality
include a de facto end of the armed intifada, the return of
normality to the PA, and the coordination of the disengagement,
there are also risks for Israel. These include a failure to
dismantle the terror infrastructure, international pressure on
Israel to show flexibility and restraint even after outbreaks of
terror, and acceptance of Hamas´s integration into the PA - in
effect, acquiescing to that organization´s political legitimacy.
"Calm" Does Not Mean "Cease-Fire"
The election of Mahmud Abbas (Abu Mazen) on 9 January 2005 as
Chairman of the Palestinian Authority, along with Israel´s political
and military pressure, has brought about a change in PA policy on
continuing the "armed intifada." The negotiations that Abu Mazen is
conducting with Palestinian terror organizations, headed by Hamas
and Islamic Jihad, have already produced basic understandings on new
rules for the struggle, primarily involving the rehabilitation of
the PA, acceptance of the new rules of the game, discussion of
relations between the armed factions and the PA, and basic agreement
on a period of "calm" (tahdi´a) in the security sphere.1 Here it is
important to focus on the Arabic terminology being used and not rely
on the English word "cease-fire" that is often cited in the Western
The term "calm" represents a careful approach by both the PA and the
terror organizations. It signifies a declaration of intent that does
not require an agreement between the sides and is meant to enable
continued discussions with Israel on the conditions for a hudna or
cessation of hostilities.2 It is neither a unilateral cease-fire nor
an acceptance of Israel´s conditions, but rather a reversible,
tactical step if Israel does not provide the appropriate political
compensation according to Palestinian expectations. On the
Palestinian side, there is broad agreement that the PA will not
grant Israel a "free cease-fire."3
The "calm" on the part of the terror organizations is aimed
primarily at enabling the Palestinian Authority to negotiate a hudna
with Israel from a more comfortable political position in which the
political "ball" is in Israel´s court. The announcement by Israel´s
chief of staff (on 28 January 2005) that the IDF is curtailing
offensive military actions in PA territory4 is regarded as an
important signal, but this by no means satisfies Palestinian
The hudna proposed by the Palestinian side is based on two main
A. A mutually obligatory hudna: By means of the principle of
reciprocity, the Palestinians are trying to evade their
responsibility for terror over the past four and a half years,
seeking to undermine Israel´s claim to be defending itself against a
terror offensive. As Hamas views it, such a stance reflects
the "position of strength" the Palestinians have gained
through "armed resistance" in forcing a unilateral Israeli
withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and northern Samaria that is not
conditioned on any Palestinian concession.6
B. A conditional hudna with "escape clauses": The Palestinian
commitment to the proposed cease-fire does not rest on political,
legal, or moral recognition of the illegitimacy of Palestinian
terror but rather on political cost-benefit calculations. Therefore,
in presenting their conditions for implementing the hudna, the
Palestinians assume that the terror will likely be renewed if Israel
fails to meet those conditions. The paramount interest of Hamas and
Islamic Jihad is to reorganize and rebuild their capabilities after
they were severely degraded by the Israel Defense Forces. Thus,
Hamas leader Khaled Mashal referred to the hudna as a "rest for the
Palestinian Conditions for a Cease-Fire
The Palestinian Authority is presenting extensive initial conditions
for negotiations on a hudna that is supposed to replace the short-
lived tahdi´a. The Palestinian demands that have taken shape in the
negotiations with the terror organizations include the following:8
a.The terror organizations demand the release of all Palestinian
prisoners as a "basic condition" for the hudna.
b. Ending Israeli military activity in PA territory.
c. Upholding all aspects of the PA´s "sovereignty" (including
control of airspace, water resources, etc.).
d. Israeli withdrawal to the lines of 29 September 2000 and removal
of checkpoints, roadblocks, and military emplacements that restrict
Palestinian freedom of movement.
e. Ending the policy of "targeted interceptions."
f. Resolving the problem of wanted fugitives via an agreement that
was reached between Israel and the Palestinian Authority in 2003.
g. Ceasing construction of the security fence and construction in
For Abu Mazen, Cease-Fire Does Not Mean an End to "Resistance"
According to the expanded Palestinian concept of hudna, "resistance
to occupation" remains legitimate as a major element in sustaining
the struggle against Israel simultaneously with the opening of
political channels. According to Abu Mazen, "resistance to
occupation" is "a right that is implicit in international
covenants," one that "the Palestinian people will never relinquish."
In Abu Mazen´s view, this "right" is to be fitted into current
political circumstances in a way that brings maximum benefit in both
international public opinion and at the political level, and
prevents the continued "tarnishing" of the Palestinian struggle by
defining it as terrorism.9
In this context, political and popular agitation (in the form of
violent demonstrations) against the security fence is viewed as a
successful model of the preferred approach for the Palestinian
Authority. Even though Abu Mazen himself disparaged turning the
intifada into a military struggle, "resistance to occupation" also
includes, according to some of the terror organizations, the use of
weapons in the territories (including Jerusalem) against military
targets and settlers in response to what they perceive as
Israeli "aggression." Abu Mazen indicated this himself when he
stated in March 2003 that "resistance by any means is legitimate"
with regard to Israeli settlers.10
Since his election, Abu Mazen has sought to restore public
confidence in the Palestinian Authority and its leadership, restore
normalcy to the PA, strengthen the status of the Palestinian
security forces, subordinate the struggle against Israel to policy
considerations, and reorganize Palestinian society through
democratic elections, integration of all forces into the political
structures, and enforcement of law and order. Preferring dialogue
with the terror organizations to confrontation, while also carrying
out a rapid process of democratization that is open to all, Abu
Mazen is garnering broad support for his leadership while creating
room to maneuver in the first stage of the political processes
involving Israel and the United States.
Abu Mazen´s Strategy: Change the Focus from Palestinian Terror to
Abu Mazen wants to be viewed as someone who has met the conditions
of the first stage of the road map with regard to political and
security reforms, and as someone who deals appropriately with
Palestinian terror, even if this proves more complicated and time-
consuming than initially expected. Beyond the tactical objective of
moving the ball to the Israeli court and changing the focus of the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict from Palestinian terror to the "Israeli
occupation," Abu Mazen wants to get the U.S. administration and the
European Union to pressure Israel to implement the principle of
withdrawal from the rest of the West Bank. He further seeks to
accelerate the process of recognizing a Palestinian state in
temporary borders as a complementary step to the disengagement
process, while launching negotiations on a final settlement. The
Palestinian Authority has an interest in deferring the road
map´s "tests" regarding neutralization of the terror infrastructure
to a later stage of the establishment of the Palestinian state.
The present political situation confronts Israel with both risks and
a. Reorganization of the Palestinian system under a stable
b. Renewing the political negotiations with the Palestinian
Authority toward a resolution of the conflict.
c. A de facto cessation of the armed intifada in the forms it has
taken since September 2000.
d. Spreading Abu Mazen´s pragmatic political approach to all the
power actors in the Palestinian Authority.
e. Changing the unilateral disengagement to a process coordinated
with the Palestinian side (rather than a retreat under fire).
f. Restoring normalcy to Israeli-Palestinian relations, while
creating conditions that inhibit the renewal of violence.
a. The Palestinian Authority does not entirely reject the principle
of armed struggle ("under appropriate circumstances") and seeks to
legitimize "resistance to occupation" in international public
b. Abu Mazen prefers the path of dialogue and understanding with the
terror organizations and does not aim to dismantle the terror
infrastructure, which remains as a potential threat to both the
Palestinian Authority and Israel.
c. The conditional hudna may turn out to be a political trap for
Israel that constrains its freedom of action against terror.
d. The international community may demand that Israel show political
flexibility and great restraint, even if terror breaks out, in light
of Abu Mazen´s image as "the only pragmatic option" on the
e. After the stage of containment, which aims at stabilizing the
Authority´s status both domestically and in the eyes of the
international community, the Palestinian Authority may launch an
intensified political offensive while renewing the "legitimate"
popular struggle against the "Israeli occupation," which carries a
high potential for conflict at a time when Israel is in an inferior
position both politically and in terms of public opinion.
f. The integration of Hamas and other organizations into the
Palestinian government may enhance their political power and gain
them political legitimacy without requiring them to discard their
guiding ideology of terror. Israel´s acceptance of this process
could be interpreted as acquiescence.
What Should Israel Do?
Supporting Abu Mazen´s new Palestinian government by easing
conditions and undertaking confidence-building measures may help
reinforce his domestic position. This could include resolving the
problem of wanted Palestinian fugitives, transferring West Bank
cities to Palestinian security control, removing checkpoints and
roadblocks, releasing prisoners, granting additional work permits in
Israel, and helping to mobilize funds for economic development in
the Palestinian Authority.
Israel should seek to renew the dialogue and cooperation that
existed until the outbreak of the intifada. It should publicize the
confidence-building measures on a date that is convenient for Abu
Mazen so that he can present them as an achievement for his
pragmatic political approach and use them in upcoming election
campaigns against Hamas. However, Israel should insist on the
principle of reciprocity and should apply a phased approach to
easing conditions as leverage for creating a Palestinian interest in
maintaining the hudna over time.
It should be stressed that as of the Sharm el-Sheikh summit,
Palestinian security forces have not confiscated illegal firearms,
nor have they incarcerated active terrorists, except for a handful
who were only jailed for a few hours and then released. Furthermore,
the Iz a-Din al-Qassam Brigades of Hamas officially took
responsibility for launching 13 mortar and 6 Kassam rocket attacks
against Israeli settlements in the Gaza Strip between 27 January and
2 February 2005, claiming that they recorded 349 violations of the
tahdi´a by Israel and threatening further actions.11
Israel must oppose any official commitment to Palestinian conditions
for the hudna. Israel must insist on its right to act against terror
under any circumstances. Yet it could reach an informal agreement to
an acceptable hudna under the auspices of the United States.
Israel should insist on a clear and official announcement from the
Palestinian Authority declaring an end to the intifada. This is also
important as recognition of responsibility for the outbreak of the
armed violence. On the basis of such a declaration, Israel can then
move to discuss other steps to return the situation to what it was
before September 2000.
Israel should seek early coordination of positions with the U.S.
administration with regard to its expectations in the political
process, on the criteria for determining whether the Palestinian
Authority has removed the terror infrastructure, on preventing
incitement, and on establishing a monitoring mechanism to ensure
that aid money is not channeled directly or indirectly to Hamas.
Finally, Israel must recognize its inability to significantly affect
the Palestinian political map. Therefore, Israel should regard the
Palestinian Authority as an independent political entity that must
take full responsibility for terrorism emanating from its territory,
similarly to how Israel regards Jordan and Egypt, where there are
also Islamic movements that have broad popular support, while
avoiding the impression that Israel accepts the integration of Hamas
and Islamic Jihad into the Palestinian government.
2. In 1994, the Saudi grand mufti, Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin Baz,
clarified that any hudna (cessation of hostilities) was only
temporary: "The peace between the leader of the Muslims in Palestine
and the Jews does not mean that the Jews will permanently own the
lands which they now possess. Rather it only means that they would
be in possession of it for a period of time until either the truce
comes to an end, or until the Muslims become strong enough to force
them out of Muslim lands." "Fatwa Concerning the Peace Treaty,"
online.com/fataawa/worship/jihaad/jih003/0020714.htm, quoted in Dore
Gold, Hatred´s Kingdom: How Saudi Arabia Supports the New Global
Terrorism (Washington: Regnery, 2003), pp. 195-6.
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