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End of the ceasefire?
April 30, 2007 Edition 15
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IN THIS ISSUE
>< "Collision course" - by Yossi Alpher
A ceasefire will never amount to more than a lull in the fighting unless the
belligerents find a way to talk. Yet Hamas refuses to talk.
>< "Violence can only end with a political context" - by Ghassan Khatib
As long as there is oppressive and violent occupation there will always be
>< "The Lebanon precedent mitigates caution" - by Amos Harel
Olmert has learned a few things about the limitations of IDF force.
>< "No truce with nothing in return" - an interview with Mahmoud Zahar
If you count the number of people killed by Israel recently it is clear why
the truce had to end now.
AN ISRAELI VIEW
Rethinking the issue
by Yossi Alpher
by Yossi Alpher
If the pause, or ceasefire, between Israel and the Palestinians in Gaza has
not yet officially ended, it appears to be merely a matter of time before it
does. The buildup of armed forces in Gaza by Hamas and other militants has the
Israeli security community on edge. It is like the legendary pistol that
appears in act I of a Chekhov play; by act III someone will fire it.
Hamas, emulating Hizballah and with support from that organization and its
Iranian patron, has smuggled tons of explosives under the Gaza-Sinai border,
along with long range rockets and sophisticated anti-tank weapons. It is also
constructing heavy fortifications. Israel is determined not to stand idly by
while this goes on, as it did for years concerning southern Lebanon. Hence at
this point in time an Israeli land incursion of some sort into Gaza seems
inevitable. PM Ehud Olmert's government announced on April 25 that for the
time being it would not respond to Hamas' provocative Independence Day barrage
against Israel. But this reflects short-term internal Israeli
considerations--mainly anticipation of the Winograd report--more than grand
These developments mask a nuanced reality that bears examination if we are
ever to extricate ourselves from the circle of violence. For one, all Hamas
forces do not appear to be sewn from one cloth. Part of the political wing,
led by PM Ismail Haniyeh, purports to support the ceasefire in order to
reinforce the new unity government, while the military wing seems bent on
sabotaging that government by escalating attacks against Israel. Political or
military, the Palestinian Islamist movement's version of the causes for the
deterioration of conditions in Gaza blames Israel exclusively for Palestinian
misery, happily ignoring the role played by its own terrorism and rejectionism
and feeding the escalation of tensions.
On the other hand, Hamas described its independence day barrage not as a
provocation but as a response to the IDF's killing of nine Palestinians--some
innocent, some unarmed--in the course of anti-terrorist operations in the West
Bank scarcely a day earlier. Hamas and Islamic Jihad argue that the ceasefire
applies to the West Bank as well, while Israel rejects that claim--a position
confirmed by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas--as long as the
Palestinians prove incapable of enforcing the "pause" even in Gaza.
This returns us to Hamas' exploitation of the ceasefire to arm and fortify
itself in Gaza, a charge Hamas does not deny. Belligerents usually exploit
ceasefires in order to rearm and redeploy; Israel, too, has done so. Israel is
also abetting the plan of America's General Keith Dayton to train and arm
Fateh's Presidential Guard and to strengthen the office of PA National
Security Adviser Muhammad Dahlan as a counter to Hamas in Gaza. This is hardly
reassuring news for the Hamas leadership, even though there is nothing to
indicate that the retrained Fateh force will be any more efficient as a
security unit than its predecessor, Force 17.
At the heart of this scheme is the notion that Hamas' election victory of
January 2006, facilitated by the US, can be reversed and the two-state
oriented Fateh restored to a position of power. It is a doubtful proposition;
it could make matters worse by bringing about the ultimate collapse of the PA.
In contrast, Saudi Arabia spearheaded the efforts to form a Palestinian unity
government and now claims that it has maneuvered Hamas onto the path of
eventually accepting a two-state solution. This effort, too, warrants
skepticism in view of Hamas' militant Islamist nature. Still, a renewal of
full-scale Israeli-Palestinian hostilities in and around the Gaza Strip will
surely be seen as a setback for this cause, and could damage prospects for
cooperation between Israel and the Arab League under the umbrella of the
recently re-ratified Arab peace initiative. Nor will it really put a stop to
terrorism from Gaza for any length of time. And it could involve heavy Israeli
At the end of the day, a ceasefire will never amount to more than a lull in
the fighting unless the belligerents find a way to talk. Yet Hamas refuses to
talk to Israel, even informally, while Olmert and the international community
insist on a set of preconditions for formal contacts that, however logical and
reasonable, are unacceptable even to Hamas' politicians, not to mention its
We are on a collision course. There are no easy choices here. The only actors
that could conceivably prevent or significantly delay yet another major armed
clash in and around Gaza are the Saudis--if indeed they have acquired genuine
leverage over Hamas--and Israel's politicians, to the extent the Winograd
report plunges the country into a prolonged political crisis.- Published
30/4/2007 (c) bitterlemons.org
Yossi Alpher is the Israeli coeditor of the bitterlemons family of internet
publications. He is former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies
at Tel Aviv University and a former senior adviser to PM Ehud Barak.
A PALESTINIAN VIEW
Violence can only end with a political context
by Ghassan Khatib
The issue of a ceasefire is best understood in the light of the general rule
that as long as there is oppressive and violent occupation there will always
be resistance, including violent resistance. Once that is understood, it
should be equally clear that the only way to reduce or end violent
confrontations is through a political process that at the very least promises
an end to this occupation.
The argument is easily illustrated by casting an eye back over the last 40
years of this belligerent and illegal Israeli occupation of Palestinian land.
The only period of relative calm during that time was between 1996-2000,
during the "healthy" years of the Oslo-inspired peace process.
These years gave Palestinians a reason to believe that the occupation was
coming to an end. As a result, Palestinians were ready to give this process a
chance and instead focus on issues such as state and institution building.
It is no coincidence that the collapse of negotiations at Camp David was
followed by an outbreak of confrontations and violence between the two sides.
The period after the election of Hamas also witnessed a relative reduction in
violence, at least from the Palestinian side. Israel undertook two extremely
punishing and deadly raids into the Gaza Strip, one in June and one in
October, leading to over a hundred Palestinian deaths, including many children
and innocent bystanders. Nevertheless, a Gaza truce was agreed in November
last year. Under the terms of this unwritten agreement, Hamas accepted to end
its violent activities from the Strip if Israel ended its violent attacks on
the Strip. But violence in the West Bank was excluded from the agreement.
That defect carried with it its eventual failure. The West Bank and Gaza are
not separate entities. They are the home to the same people under the same
conditions, fighting the same struggle and led by the same political parties
and factions. The exclusion of the West Bank was wholly artificial. Thus, when
Israel dramatically escalated its violence in different areas of the West Bank
last week, killing nine Palestinian in less than 24 hours, the factions in
Gaza, including Hamas, announced an end to the truce.
That is not to say a ceasefire is bound to fail. But for any such end to
violence to be sustainable, two conditions must obtain. First, any ceasefire
has to be comprehensive and include both the West Bank and Gaza. But second,
and more importantly, any ceasefire must come in the context of a political
initiative that addresses the root cause of the violence, which is of course
On a related note, Hamas has, by its willingness and ability to implement a
ceasefire, sent a message to the world that it can be a counterpart to Israel
not only in military confrontations but also in ending the violence and
possibly in a political process. Hamas also implicitly told the international
community that it was ready to abide by at least one of the Quartet's
conditions, namely ending the violence.
Hamas' willingness to send those signals again underscores the argument that
ceasefires need political contexts. If a political context is either not
created or is created and then ignored, ceasefires will only ever be lulls in
fighting during which the parties take the opportunity to re-arm and prepare
for yet another round of violence.- Published 30/4/2007 (c) bitterlemons.org
Ghassan Khatib is coeditor of the bitterlemons family of internet
publications. He is vice-president of Birzeit University and a former
Palestinian Authority minister of planning.
AN ISRAELI VIEW
The Lebanon precedent mitigates caution
by Amos Harel
It all began with Arkadi Gaidamak. Last November the Russian Jewish oligarch
succeeded, apparently unintentionally, to impose a ceasefire between Israel
and the Palestinian Authority in the Gaza Strip.
After an unusually large Hamas rocket barrage on Sderot, Gaidamak responded to
the outcry of the residents of that battered town and organized a mass
vacation for them in Eilat. PM Ehud Olmert panicked. A few months earlier the
government of Israel had confronted severe public criticism for not taking
adequate steps to protect the residents of the Galilee during the second
Lebanon war. The impromptu vacation village that Gaidamak set up in the center
of the country last summer welcomed thousands of instant refugees from the
north. Olmert, fearing a repeat performance, accepted the PA's offer of a
tahdiya (pause) along the Gaza border. What the rockets didn't produce, the
billionaire did. Hamas gave its pledge to PA President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu
Mazen) to cease firing Qassam rockets. Israel committed its forces along the
border to observe a total ceasefire--even if it identified Palestinians
preparing to fire rockets.
Actually, this total ceasefire was not observed for even a day. Palestinian
organizations led by Islamic Jihad continued to fire rockets toward the
western Negev region. Hamas and Fateh did nothing to stop the firing; in many
cases, Hamas' military wing supplied rockets to the smaller groups that
continued firing. Some of these organizations rejected any pause with Israel
as a matter of principle. Others cited the fact that the IDF was continuing
its operations in the West Bank, every week killing "wanted" Palestinians,
both armed and unarmed. They viewed their rocket attacks as a suitable
response to Israel's aggression in the West Bank.
Israel's policy of restraint in Gaza also began to erode. While the IDF
avoided artillery fire and massive deployment of tanks, it slowly renewed its
use of aircraft to strike at Palestinian rocket squads. Beginning in April,
the entry of ground forces to a depth of one km. inside the Strip was again
This gradual escalation, coupled with growing reservations within the Hamas
military wing concerning the Mecca agreement and the unity government with
Fateh, impelled Hamas too to step up its armed activity. During the past month
it renewed sharpshooter, explosive charge and rocket attacks along the border.
Israeli political and military circles are increasingly warning that Gaza is
about to become a "second Lebanon", and that if Israel does not grasp this
reality and preempt by launching a major land incursion into the Strip, it
will confront a threat in the South (rockets, explosive charge and anti-tank
weapons) reminiscent of the arsenal Hizballah deployed in the North last
summer. It is no secret that the IDF has been actively training for several
months for precisely this contingency: standing army and reserve units have
simulated a variety of scenarios of sharp escalation in Gaza.
So are we once again looking at a self-fulfilling prediction? Not
necessarily--and here again the reasoning is "Lebanese". Israel may indeed
have concluded from the precedent of its summer confrontation with Hizballah
that it must not again acquiesce in a growing threat of terrorism against its
territory. But by the same token, its government and military decision-makers
recognize the dangers involved in a broad operation in Gaza. Olmert, having
been burned badly in the Lebanon war and now under the shadow of the Winograd
Commission's verdict regarding the hasty judgment he displayed last July, is
in no hurry to repeat the adventure in the Strip.
In the interim, too, he has learned a few things about the limitations of IDF
force. The Israeli public is not convinced that the Qassam nuisance justifies
endangering the lives of hundreds of soldiers in an extended operation. Nor is
the international community likely this time to show so much understanding for
Israel's offensive measures.
Above all, there is the fear lest a major military operation not produce any
real change in the situation. Anarchy reigns inside Gaza. While it could be
argued that a decisive Israeli land operation in southern Lebanon--had it been
launched earlier--might have succeeded in establishing a new order there, the
moment the IDF withdraws from Gaza the threat is likely to reappear. IDF Chief
of General Staff Gabi Ashkenazi understands this well, and is not currently
pressing for a major operation.
The conventional wisdom tells us that armies are always anxious to restore
their sullied honor in a new battle. This does not for the moment appear to be
the situation regarding Gaza. The only senior political and military officials
currently advocating a major IDF offensive are Major General Yoav Galant, CO
Southern Command, and Brigadier General Moshe (Chicko) Tamir, commander of the
For now, they are clearly the minority--but only for now. The problem is that
in Israel these decisions always reflect the impact of the most recent armed
incident, and particularly the number of casualties involved. Everyone in the
Israeli leadership, from Olmert to Galant, knows that escalation to war is
merely a matter of a single deadly Qassam. If, God forbid, a rocket falls on a
kindergarten in Sderot and massacres children, then a major military operation
in the Strip is virtually inevitable.- Published 30/4/2007 (c)
Amos Harel is the military correspondent of Ha'aretz. He is the coauthor,
together with Avi Isacharoff, of The Seventh War, a book about the second
A PALESTINIAN VIEW
No truce with nothing in return
an interview with Mahmoud Zahar
bitterlemons: Hamas' military wing, the Izzedin al-Qassam Brigades, recently
said it considered the truce over. Why now?
Zahar: The Israelis are escalating the situation. Every day the Israeli army
enters the West Bank and kills innocent people, destroys houses and practices
all kinds of violence against the Palestinian people. The same is happening in
Since March 2005 we have agreed to several ceasefires, but the Israelis want
ceasefires for free. They want a truce that maintains their security but gives
nothing in return, certainly not the security and safety of Palestinians. If
you count the number of people killed by Israel recently and add to that the
devastation and destruction wrought by the Israeli army, it is clear why the
truce had to end now. The Israeli violence is not acceptable and the
Palestinian people must do something to defend themselves.
bitterlemons: How can an end to the Gaza truce benefit the Palestinian people?
Zahar: If a truce is in the interest of the Palestinian people, there should
be a truce. That has happened in the past. But if a truce doesn't further
Palestinian interests, if a truce does not end the Israeli aggression against
Palestinians, we should look for other means to achieve our interests.
Activating the resistance to confront the Israeli aggression is one way to
defend Palestinian interests.
bitterlemons: There appears to be some disagreement over ending the truce
between Hamas members in the government and the Izzedin al-Qassam Brigades.
Are splits appearing within Hamas?
Zahar: There has, for decades now, been much wishful thinking on behalf of our
enemies about splits and divisions within Hamas. But the situation is this.
The government has its political program and the Palestinian resistance
factions have theirs. And the two are separate. The government is interested
in maintaining the calm in order to rebuild what the Israeli occupation has
destroyed and to bring security to the people. The resistance is a program of
defense against aggression.
bitterlemons: There appears to be stalemate on all political fronts, whether
with Israel or with the international community regarding sanctions against
the Palestinian government. What is the way forward?
Zahar: We face two options, either to surrender and renounce our rights or to
be steadfast. In the Palestinian experience, renouncing some of our rights,
like the right to resist, has failed to bring us even a minimum of our
national rights. So we are required to be steadfast and find political and
There were never any political proposals that met the minimum of Palestinian
demands. The best example is Oslo, where Israel was the only party to benefit,
particularly by winning more and more time to continue its colonization of
Palestinian land and the judaization of Jerusalem. We need to distinguish
between political projects that are of benefit to us and those without
bitterlemons: What can Hamas itself do to convince the international community
to lift sanctions?
Zahar: Hamas is not interested in implementing the Quartet conditions. Doing
so would simply be a repeat of the experience of previous authorities, which,
as we know, have done nothing for us. Hamas is not about to repeat the
mistakes of the past.
Hamas is interested in finding and exploring alternatives. Hamas has been
talking about the Arab and Islamic depth of the Palestinian cause for some
time now, and we have already achieved significant progress in this respect,
particularly vis-a-vis financial and political support.
bitterlemons: If there is no change on the political front and the truce ends,
can the unity government survive?
Zahar: I think the unity government will survive because the previous
Hamas-led government faced even more difficult conditions and survived. Under
the previous government, the Israelis destroyed everything, bridges, the power
station and other infrastructure. Several ministers were arrested and there
were assassination attempts as well but the government withstood it all.
In addition, the internal Israeli situation is in disarray, with corruption
allegations embroiling the president, the prime minister and several
ministers. There is also a change in the position of Arab and Islamic
governments, while the situation in Iraq and Afghanistan shows that the
Zionist project in the Muslim world is failing.- Published 30/4/2007 (c)
Mahmoud Zahar is a senior leader in Hamas and a former Palestinian Authority
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