Cease-Fire, with Whom?

by Raphael Israeli (March 2009)

Until recently, armies used to launch wars from territories of states, to conquer lands or lose them, to gain dominance or to yield it, and finally to lead negotiations which settle the conflict until the next one erupts, via peace treaties or cease-fires, border agreements and spheres of influence, prisoner exchange, imposition of duties and granting of rights. That was, for centuries, the accepted pattern of conduct in international relations. But since the Muslim world has launched its war of terror against the West, new rules have been drafted, for it is no longer clear who fights against whom and in whose name, non-state groups initiate acts of hostility against individuals, groups and states, kidnap hostages and dictate terms for their release, and there is no way to bring about the termination of the conflict unless under the conditions of the terrorists. And since these belligerents are intermingled with civilian population and shielded by it, there is also no way to defend oneself efficiently against them without raising the wrath of the entire world, save the one country attempting to defend itself.

However, the main problem here is not the conflict itself, but the exit map from it. Between states there are treaties, alliances, agreements for peace, cease fire or truce which put an end to conflict, but terrorist groups have been imposing their own terminology and vocabulary, and the rest of the world capitulates and adopts them, much as they are foreign to the accepted international terms. Hamas and Hizbullah have invoked the hudna, a well-defined Islamic term which has antecedents and set rules in Islamic shari’a law. Israel and the rest of the world, have accepted it and forgotten the international rules of discourse, like cease-fire, truce and armistice, which apply to the entire world, save the Muslim terrorist groups. Lately, since even the hudna has seemed too institutionalized to the Hamas, for fear that it might imply, Allah Forbid, an indirect recognition of Israel, they invented a new concept, the tahdi’a, some sort of amorphous, non-binding and temporary truce, and coerced Israel to consider that terminology as a basis for negotiation. And lest anyone miscomprehend the message, they insist that it cannot last more than a year, or one year and a half at the most. And what next? A return to square one? A short respite until they had had the chance to regroup their forces, to absorb new weaponry and then resume their bombardment of border towns of Israel? In other words, while for Israel a cease-fire would serve as a stepping stone for peace and quiet, for the Palestinians it would become a price to pay  pending a better preparation of  the launching pad for the next assault.

It is clear why the Hamas is using this terminology, which is not a semantic game, but is pregnant with long-term repercussions. It is less clear why should Israel, and others, feel obliged by it and educate the Israeli public to believe that the international affairs of the world are being conducted on that basis. Israel and the world should totally reject this Islamic vocabulary and insist on the use of the accept terms which conform to international law and usage, and have meaning, validity and exit stations. When anyone urges Israel to accept a hudna  or a tahdi’a, it should ask for an internationally accepted interpretation of those terms. When the US alliance fights in Iraq, Afghanistan, or elsewhere, it insists on defeating the Taliban and al-Qa’ida, exactly like in WWII the Allies refused to negotiate any cease-fire with the Axis, short or a total capitulation. Now Israel is asked not only to renounce the total surrender of Hamas, but to accept its alien terminology for negotiation. This is an exaggeration that even the terrorists did not imagine they could achieve in their wildest dreams.

Even worse than that. Does anyone envisage parallel negotiations with any government and the opposition to it at the same time? Israel is obligated by its agreements with the Palestinian Authority, and those understandings include neither a hudna  nor a tahd’ia. So, either the PA does not represents the Palestinians, so Israel should arrive to different arrangements with the Hamas, or it should persist in its commitment to the Authority and reject any dealings with the Hamas, directly or via Egypt. Mubarak would have refused to talk with Israel if at the same time she conducted negotiations with the Muslim Brothers who oppose his rule. So would any negotiator, like the US, with terrorist groups in Iraq, Afghanistan or Pakistan, while it recognizes and supports the legitimate governments of those countries. Israel cannot implement at the same time the Oslo Accords with the PA, whatever their worth, and at the same time negotiate a hudna with another part of the same Palestinian people. Israel has never declared that it recognized two separate Palestinian entities.

The conclusion is that Israel must put an end to this confusion, decide whom it recognizes and with whom it concludes agreements. It must revert to the agreed international terminology which alone possesses accepted interpretations and recognized institutions of enforcement when needed. Lending legitimacy to two separate Palestinian entities can only generate two Palestinian states, in addition to Jordan and to the separate Palestinian identity which has been cultivated among Israeli Arabs. A Palestinian state, yes, by all means; three and a half Palestinian entities, and we are on the road to instability, conflict and chaos.
(Raphael Israeli is a Professor of Islam at the Hebrew University, Jerusalem.)

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