You, me and the next 'ceasefire': How the meaning of the term changed since the Second Intifada 

Commentary: Israel is changing its discourse on a ceasefire to fit what it feels to be the demands of the time

You, me and the next 'ceasefire': How the meaning of the term changed since the Second Intifada 

An Israeli soldier at an artillery unit near the border between Israel and Gaza in May. Photo: REUTERS/ Ammar Awad 

"When we walk along, we are three,
You and me and the next war
When we sleep, we are three
You and me and the next war"

(Hanoch Levin, You, Me and the Next War, 1968) 

On the 12th of September of this year, Israel’s Foreign Minister Yair Lapid revived the “Economy for Security” formula to rebuild Gaza with the involvement of international bodies. Speaking at the Institute for Counter-Terrorism Policy at Reichman University in Herziliya, Lapid said that "the rehabilitation process will be defined by a series of pre-set benchmarks, with each one given a specific timeframe. Any breach by Hamas will stop the process or set it back."

Lapid’s statement magnifies Israel’s problem with amorphous parameters of the "Hasdara" ("arrangement" in Hebrew) with Hamas. Originally, the Hasdara was to turn the formulaic ceasefire efforts into an operatic exercise in local pragmatism. Yet, through continuous escalations over the last three years, culminating in Operation "Guardian of the Walls" in May 2021, Hasdara has become a synonym for "violence"; the orderly connotation of the original concept has been eroded. 

The language of precise benchmarks within a set time frame evokes a déjà vu. Lapid is attempting to reverse a trend which began during the Second Intifada of 2000-2004: the erosion of the ceasefire as a contractual conflict resolution instrument into local covenants of conflict management such as "Tahdiya" ("non-binding calm" or "quieting" in Arabic), "Hudna" (Islamic jurisprudence for reciprocal temporary ceasefire) and Hasdara. 

The Second Intifada was not classified as a "war" or as "an operation". It was a cataclysmic experience that encompassed every theme and subject conceivable. Caffeinated and sobering, it was Yossarianesque in its erratic imminence of "getting killed". An unprecedented descent into anarchy, it raised moral and legal issues. Intractable and indeterminate, the onslaught was gradually thwarted by Israel. 

Usually, the Second Intifada is considered as having two parts: from its eruption on September 29, 2000, up to the military reoccupation of the West Bank in "Operation Defensive Shield" (April 2002), and from 2002 to the targeted killings of Hamas’ leaders Sheik Ahmed Yasin and Abed Al Aziz a-Rantisi in March and April 2004, during which Israel restored security to a tolerable level. The death of PLO leader Yasser Arafat in November that year provided a symbolic milestone. Ariel Sharon’s unilateral disengagement from the Gaza Strip in 2005, and the subsequent "Machtergreifung" of Gaza by Hamas in 2007, are enduring legacies of the Second Intifada.

"We have turned every stone for peace" (PM Ehud Barak, October 7, 2000)

During Ehud Barak’s last months as prime minister, Israel quixotically navigated the chaos through ceasefire efforts as a mechanism to reignite negotiations with the Palestinians for a permanent settlement. Respective summits held in Sharm El-Sheik and Taba advanced every agenda, except ending the violence.

Elected as prime minister in February 2001, Sharon signaled flexibility toward U.S. ceasefire proposals. He endorsed the "Mitchell Report" and George Tenet's ceasefire plan to revive the peace process. Sharon added a precondition to a ceasefire: seven days of calm, followed by a six week cooling-off period: a ceasefire abacus. It was an ambitious condition given Palestinian fragmentation at the time. If maintained, Israel would proceed to confidence-building measures. The situation however, remained agitated, erratic and exacerbated.

A tunnel at the end of the tunnel

From November 27, 2001 to May 2002, Gen. (Ret.) Anthony C. Zinni, the new U.S. Middle East Peace Envoy, shuttled between Jerusalem and Ramallah to mediate a ceasefire and implement the "Mitchell Report" and Tenet’s plan. Each of his visits to the region were punctuated by an upsurge in violence. Such was the case with a string of Palestinian suicide bombings in Jerusalem and Haifa, killing 26 Israelis over the weekend of December 1-2, 2001. A month later, Israel neutralized Ra'id Carmi, a leading Fatah terrorist in Tulkarm, as he was en route to an imminent terrorist attack. Escalation followed. 

"I think that there are ingredients here for hope. I’m encouraged." (Gen. Zinni, March 15, 2002)

During Zinni’s Mission, the peace process had been reduced into achieving 48 hours of calm. In March 2002 alone 135 Israelis were killed in a barrage of 17 attacks, namely suicide bombings in Israel per-se. A Palestinian suicide bomber hit Cafe Moment in Jerusalem on the 9th of March 2002 within the proximity of Israel's Prime Minister's Office; yet Israel remained committed to Zinni’s efforts and his subsequent "Peace Plan" from March 26, 2002. The next day, as Arafat dawdled in declaring a ceasefire, a Hamas suicide bomber blew up Park Hotel in Netanya on Passover eve, killing 30 Israelis. It lit the fuse for Sharon’s Operation "Defensive Shield". Israel dismantled the military capabilities of the Palestinian Authority and Hamas' infrastructure in the West Bank.

From contracts to covenants 

During 2002-2003, Saudi Arabia floated its "Peace Initiative", and the U.S, supported by the Quartet, outlined the "Road Map" toward Israeli-Palestinian peace. Yet, the term "ceasefire" was becoming more localized. Ironically, each configuration factored peace further out of the equation. On June 29, 2003, "Hudna" entered the Israeli discourse as Palestinian factions tried to regroup. It was short-lived. On August 19, a suicide bomber blew up a bus on Line 2 in Jerusalem. Israel's subsequent killing of the Hamas' leaders in 2004 resulted in Palestinian factions metamorphosing "Hudna" into "Tahdiya" on January 22, 2005, and declaring it on March 15, 2005. "Tahdiya" was appropriated by Israel, and was instrumental to Sharon's unilateral disengagement plan from Gaza.

"Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose"

Israel serves as an example of a country changing its discourse on a ceasefire to fit what it feels to be the demands of the time. Since the Second Intifada waned, "ceasefire" has been an absent term on the Palestinian Authority front, while the function of an informal ceasefire with Hamas became an end in itself. Will Lapid's choreography reduce, perpetuate, or intensify the wider conflict?

 

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

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