Israel-Hamas ceasefire 'hasdara' arrangement: 'Sovereignizing' Gaza?

Commentary:  Critics of the arrangement say that Hamas is using the long-term calm to strengthen itself, while adherents view the arrangement as a practical one that is preferable to another military operation or no arrangement at all 

Last November, after two days of fighting, Israel and the Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip reached a fragile cessation of hostilities. It brought a gradual end to a peculiar mini-escalation that ensued following the assassination of Baha Abu al-Ata, a senior Islamic Jihad commander, in an Israeli air strike. 

Even more peculiar was the way this round, "Operation Black Belt", has been managed and contained. Unlike the cross-border flare-ups over the last two years between Israel and Hamas, this time Israel’s qualitative attacks were carefully utilized to differentiate between the Islamic Jihad and Hamas. 

Seemingly, Israel embraced Hamas for remaining out of the exchange during the violent spurt. As the Islamic Jihad asked Egypt for its customary coveted role in mediating between the fighting parties, a tentative ceasefire has been agreed upon. But throughout the exchange, internal criticism in Gaza towards Hamas boiled over, dubbing the movement as a collaborator with Israel. 

This criticism forced Hamas to "save-face" and the organization responded by launching two rockets at Be’er Sheva in southern Israel after calm was agreed upon. The rockets were intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome systems, and the Israel Air Force symbolically attacked targets in Gaza, seemingly complying with the evolutionary "rules of engagement" which have evolved over the last decade between Israel and Hamas. 

Calm fell. Efforts at local diplomacy have emerged as both Israel and Hamas practically fused a new kind of local genre-blurring 21st-century ceasefire: Hasdara, a term derives from the Hebrew word, Hesder, which is mostly used in Hebrew for out of court settlements or arrangements. 

Israeli media discourse largely confined ceasefires between Israel and Hamas to two local concepts: Hudna, a unilateral truce concept in Islamic jurisprudence, and Tahadyia, which means "calm" in Arabic. Both terms have gradually infiltrated Israeli discourse. In the context of the 2019/2020 mini-escalations, Hasdara emerged as the Israeli mirror term to Hudna and Tahadyia. Hasdara morphed the local lull into a broader frame of relatively lasting calm as means to test reciprocity and coexistence. It functions as a covenant and it could remain intact even if one of the parties breaches it. 

Israel’s fetish however, lies in formal, eloquently-written documents in English and French at times like these. Within Israel, critics to the Hasdara argue that a dissonance has emerged: long-term calm would arrive yet Hamas would strengthen itself and there are no formal guarantees of it controlling other Islamic entities nor enforcing the amorphic notion of calm. 

Adherents of the arrangement view it as a practical one. It is preferable to another military operation or no arrangement at all. In their opinion, critics of Hasdara in Israel do not convey the fluctuation of power balance in the region. Nor does this criticism acknowledges the protean nature of 21st century warfare, and its derivative, cessation of hostilities. The critics’ rhetoric works as nostalgic entertainment.

As in much rhetoric around it, Hasdara is a subtle truth. The use of the term in the political discourse in Israel implies that the indirect engagement between Israel and Hamas serves to de-facto "sovereignize" Gaza by the latter. It functions as a tool to de-escalate hostilities and mitigate humanitarian crises by calibrating expectations. 

Similar to Sisyphus who ultimately came to terms with the rock he rolled up the mountain, Israel seems to be clinching on to a new ceasefire condition. Hasdara is a covenant for people who find contractual resolution unattainable.


Guy Cohen is an Innovation Scouting & Governments Affairs advisor based in Munich, Germany.

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