Citing past failures, Hamas demands an enforceable cease-fire

Palestinians insist accountability by both sides is vital to any lasting Gaza truce

Despite heavy casualties and the destruction of civilian infrastructure, Hamas and other Palestinian factions in Gaza are insisting that Israel accept a list of conditions before a cease-fire is implemented. The failure of previous truces suggests that a durable calm can only be achieved if a cease-fire is enforceable by a third party and addresses Hamas' main goal: ending the seven-year siege of Gaza.

Hamas and Islamic Jihad's terms for a long-term cessation of hostilities are said to include: 

  • Ending the blockade of Gaza and allowing normal economic life to resume through the Israeli and Egyptian border crossings
  • International policing of land, air and maritime access to Gaza 
  • The release of Palestinian prisoners detained since June 23

Additional demands include removal of Israeli tanks from the border so that Palestinian farmers can tend their land and permission for Gaza residents to pray at al-Aqsa mosque in the West Bank. Another term is that Israel should refrain from intervening in the Palestinian reconciliation agreement.

Given past experience of cease-fire violations, Palestinian groups insist on an external referee to hold both sides accountable for observing the terms of a truce.

Only the United States has the ability to perform that role, said Yousef Munayyer, executive director of the Palestine Center, who added that "involves holding Israel accountable for cease-fire violations." Munayyer said, "They have not demonstrated the political will in doing so in the past." Israel, moreover, has always insisted on maintaining its freedom of action when it comes to military operations.

A cease-fire proposed by Egypt and initially approved by Israel on Tuesday had called for an immediate end to hostilities and for further negotiations to take place once calm was restored. That proposal accorded with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's idea of "calm for calm," which essentially restores the status quo of two weeks ago — but the Palestinian factions don’t believe the Egyptian plan offers any realistic prospect of addressing Hamas' demand for lifting the blockade. Hamas said it was not even consulted about the cease-fire — a claim verified by Israeli news reports — and therefore couldn’t officially accept or reject it.

Israel also has conditions for a cease-fire, demanding an end to rocket fire from Gaza and a demilitarization of the strip.

2008 Cease-fire

On June 19, 2008, Israel and Palestinian factions in Gaza agreed to an Egyptian-brokered six-month lull in violence. Though Israel and Hamas agreed to cease all military activities in and around Gaza and to end Israeli control and closure of Gaza's land borders, airspace and sea, the details of the deal were not publicized, according to Munayyer, although it was widely reported to include an end to rocket fire from Gaza, end to Israeli strikes on the territory and an easing of the siege to allow a flow of goods and people in and out. 

"It became difficult to hold any party accountable for violations, especially in the eyes of the public," Munayyer said, "when it became unclear what the precise terms of the cease-fire were."

Rocket fire from Gaza at Israel was mostly halted, with less than 40 rockets and mortar rounds fired between June 18 and the end of October – drastically lower than the hundreds of rockets fired before that cease-fire. Hamas even threatened to arrest anyone who fired rockets and broke the fragile cease-fire. On June 29, a spokesman for the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, a Fatah-afiliated armed group, was arrested after the group claimed responsibility for launching two rockets into Israel from Gaza.

Israel, however, never fulfilled its reported agreement to ease the blockade. Much of Gaza’s sea and farmland remained off limits, and border crossings remained almost completely closed. 

"You had a situation where rocket fire more or less stopped, but the siege continued pretty much the way it had been going,” Munayyer said.

On Nov. 4, Israel’s military entered deep into the Gaza Strip killing at least six members of Hamas, which eventually ended the already fragile cease-fire.

Israel said the attack was aimed at destroying a tunnel dug near the Gaza-Israel border meant to carry out abductions of Israeli soldiers, similar to the abduction of Gilad Shalit, who — at the time — was still in captivity in Gaza. Israel said it was acting to quell an immediate threat, therefore not in violation of the cease-fire.

“While neither side ever completely respected the cease-fire terms, the Israeli raid was far and away the biggest violation,” Stephen Zunes, professor of politics and international studies at the University of San Francisco, said in 2009 in the Electronic Intifada.

For the next month, both parties were quoted as saying they were interested in renewing the cease-fire, but couldn't agree on the terms. Israeli attacks on Gaza and rocket fire at Israel were renewed, which then led to Israel's "Operation Cast Lead."

On Dec. 27, 2008, Israel began pounding Gaza from the air and sea in one of the most brutal military operations in the region killing more than 1,400 Palestinians in the three-week assault. Thirteen Israelis were also killed in the conflict including four from friendly fire. 

Israel unilaterally declared a cease-fire on Jan. 17, 2009 followed by a separate cease-fire declared by Hamas and Islamic Jihad, but with the conditions that Israel lift its blockade on Gaza's ports, crossings and airspace. Israeli troops withdrew, but the Palestinian conditions were never met.

2012 Cease-fire

Chart shows Israeli attacks on Gaza after 2012 cease-fire deal versus Gaza attacks on Israel.
Palestine Center/UN OCHA

Between 2009 and 2012, sporadic Israeli attacks on Gaza, and rocket fire from Gaza on Israel continued. But on Nov. 14, 2012, Israel assassinated a member of Hamas' military wing, officially launching the eight-day "Operation Pillar of Defense." Israel said it was responding to an increase in rocket fire from Gaza. The Palestinians said the rocket fire was in response to the ongoing siege on Gaza, and occupation of East Jerusalem and the West Bank. More than 100 Palestinians were killed and six Israelis.

cease-fire in 2012, also brokered by Egypt, did make the terms of the deal public, but again failed to hold Israel accountable. The parties agreed: 

  • Israel should stop all hostilities in the Gaza Strip land, sea and air including incursions and targeting of individuals.
  • All Palestinian factions shall stop all hostilities from the Gaza Strip against Israel including rocket attacks and all attacks along the border.
  • Opening the border crossings Gaza and Egypt and Israel and facilitating the movements of people and transfer of goods and refraining from restricting residents' free movements and targeting residents in border areas and procedures of implementation shall be dealt with after 24 hours from the start of the ceasefire.

In the days after the cease-fire, Israel opened fire on Palestinian farmers close to the border and fishermen in the sea who thought the cease-fire allowed them to cultivate their land and fish six nautical miles off the coast. Riyad Mansour, Palestinian ambassador to the U.N., complained that the attacks were violations of the cease-fire. Within the first 30 days after the cease-fire was agreed upon, no rockets were fired at Israel. Israel, however, killed two Palestinians, injured more than 40 and detained dozens of fishermen.

“If the Palestinians violated the cease-fire and fired a projectile into Israel, Israel retained the independent capacity to hold them accountable for that and they did at will and on a regular basis if they had to,” Munayyer said. “But the same could not be said on the Palestinian side, because they do not have the capacity to hold the much mightier Israeli side to account for violations.”

In a deal brokered under President Mohammed Morsi, Egypt was to play a role in implementing and monitoring the cease-fire. Despite Morsi's commitment toward ending the blockade, Egypt never fully opened the Rafah border crossing between Gaza and Egypt's Sinai. Egypt worried about absorbing Gaza, which would lift the burden of the occupied territory off of Israel and break Gaza from the West Bank. 

Long-term truce

In the current confrontation, Gaza factions have thus far rejected a "calm-for-calm" cease-fire and are insisting on a long-term truce that will alleviate the economic stranglehold on the Palestinian enclave. That's the basis for Hamas and Islamic Jihad offering Israel a 10-year truce with 10 conditions. But without a guarantee from the U.S. and other regional players to hold both parties accountable for heeding its terms, a long-term deal may be met with the same fate as previous failed agreements.

Israel, however, "is not really taking the 10-point plan seriously," said Benedetta Berti, fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies.

"My sense is Hamas put the plan on the table not necessarily because it is convinced that it be received by the other side, but rather to set a baseline to discuss what will be the terms of the agreement," Berti said. "This also comes after Egypt put out a plan without directly engaging Hamas I believe as a way to re-claim a political role."

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