Ceasefire: A temporary suspension of fighting; a truce (noun) – (See also: “This one should hold” – Diplomacy. slang)
It was a dazzling feat for wartime ceasefires. Diluted by the disproportionate tendency to shatter in the ongoing Gaza Crisis, ceasefires ain’t what they used to be. The timeline of announced, unraveled and reinstated ceasefires in the latest operation in Gaza represents a longshore drift that contributes to the erosion of achieving a long lasting sustainable ceasefire.
The ultimate ceasefire, arguably, was the Israel-Egypt Separation of Forces Agreement-1974 following the 1973 October War. Transmuted into political progress, the agreement ultimately metamorphosed into a Peace Treaty between to the warring parties. The 1974 Separation of Forces Agreement between Israel and Syria at the same year has manifested itself as enduring, albeit with a Syria already fragmented along sectarian lines.
For proxies such as the Palestinian Sunni faction Hamas and the Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah, the centuries old Islamic jurisprudence of Hudna (tactical truce) and Tahadiya (temporary calm) serve as a plausibly regrouping tactic that is continuously reshaped amid the changing face of modern warfare in the Middle East. Yet, the literal and diplomatic meaning of ceasefire is in doubt this summer. The “kick the can down the road” approach of US secretary of state John Kerry to stabilize bitesize ceasefires in Gaza has been routinely unraveled.
The latest 'bolt-from-the-blue' 72-hour humanitarian ceasefire brokered Kerry and U.N Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon broke down after a whole 90 minutes, undermining ceasefire as a none-violent negotiation tool for conflict regulation or resolution. So far there have been at least six initiated or accepted ceasefires in the conflict with other terms that relatively convey the urgency of the crisis: the 15th July Egyptian initiative for a comprehensive ceasefire was reduced to a U.N. led initiative for a five-hour humanitarian cease-fire arrangement that subsequently turned into a two-hour humanitarian lull facilitated by the Red-Cross.
Painstaking US efforts to forge a ceasefire between the actual parties involved continued, but seem, in short term, doomed. After Kerry's rebuffed prospective seven days of humanitarian ceasefire on 25th July, the Secretary of State floated the possibility that executable spurts of two-to-four hours would provide 'the lull of opportunity'. Following the collapse of a 12 Hours pause, the much-heralded 72-hours humanitarian ceasefire proposal – "a respite, a moment of opportunity, not an end", according to Kerry – was also short-lived. So short, it never happened. It left instead a trail of diplomatic wreckage.
The proposal now looks at best misguidedly optimistic in solving short term problems, and at worse a prolongation of the current crisis. Barack Obama, the US president said: "I think it’s going to be very hard to put a ceasefire back together again if the Israelis and the international community can’t feel confident that Hamas can follow through.” As a unilateral Israeli seven-hour "humanitarian window” begins on 4th August and discussions on what is to happen after any kind of cease-fire arrangement– "the morning after" – gain momentum, many formulas would resurface: a return to the November 2012 'Pillar of Cloud' cease-fire (Hudna) between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, 'put the 72 hours ceasefire back together', and if converted into negotiations, back to 1967.
But as Israel's former Foreign Minister Abba Eban correctly pointed out on 6th June 1967: "The fact is, however, that most clocks move forward and not backward, and this, I think, should be the case with the clock of Middle Eastern peace - not backward to belligerency, but forward to peace."
Following the inability to transmute any ceasefire, Hudna or Tahadiya over the last decade into encompassing political progress, the tone is that ceasefires only exasperate the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the medium-to long-term. Paradoxically, it is the achievement of these bitesize ceasefires as a short term benefit that has trampled on the utility of ceasefire.
The writer is a Compliance Analyst at ELIEL Security Technologies Ltd Munich