So finally we have it. A Middle East leader has finally pronounced the two-syllable word. Cease-fire. Sure, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s words were barely out of his mouth before denials and surprises came from Israel. But the fact is that after more than seven months of hell, the word has finally been introduced to the Palestinian-Israeli lexicon.
True, in 1982 the term was also used, and then, as now, the key players were the same, Yasser Arafat and Ariel Sharon. But the occupied Palestinian territories are not Lebanon and everyone who tries to make the comparison is wrong.
Nevertheless, while there are no comparisons, some of the concept, mechanism and dynamics of a cease-fire are worthy of a closer look with regard to the current situation in the West Bank and Gaza.
To be successful, cease-fire agreements normally contain within them two elements – a functional element and a political one. And because cease-fire agreements are reached between enemies who don’t trust each other, any such agreement is as good as the parties who guarantee it.
On the functional level, Palestinians and Israelis need to use all their physical and persuasive powers to stop members of their own forces or individuals working in areas under their control from initiating fire. Naturally this doesn’t and shouldn’t include people protesting using non-lethal means. It is also fair to state that parties can’t be asked to enforce a cease-fire agreement in areas not under their full security control.
Cease-fire agreements, of course, have to be bilateral. One party can’t expect the other to cease fire while it continues to use fire under any pretext other than the other side opening fire. Cease-fire agreements can contain elements about the movement of armed forces – normally they are asked to return to their barracks or to a position that they were in before the fighting started.
Such agreements, however, often fail because the parties fail to honor or follow through the second most crucial element of such agreements, namely the political one. Following through on the political elements guarantees the longevity of the agreement and promises to move from what is a temporary truce to a much more stable treaty.
The guarantor of a cease-fire agreement must be a party that is respected by both sides and often this third party is given permission to bring a force of its own people that will make sure that both parties honor their commitments. Without teeth, such agreements are quickly broken, with both sides blaming the other party for being the first to shatter the cease-fire.
What would an effective cease-fire agreement look like? Here is a draft:
1- Both Israelis and Palestinians commit to immediately cease using firepower, whether from handguns, helicopters, ships, mortars or tanks.
2- Israeli soldiers agree to withdraw to areas they were in before the outbreak of the present conflict on September 28, 2000.
3- Palestinian security forces shall ensure that no one will use territories under their control termed area “A” to initiate fire.
4- Israel shall commit to allow the movement of people and goods freely within the Palestinian cities and villages, as well as leaving the land crossings and Gaza International Airport permanently open.
5- Palestinians working in Israel will be allowed to return to the levels reached before September 28, 2000.
6- The safe-passage road between Gaza and the West Bank shall be immediately opened.
7- The Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority agree to fulfill all remaining clauses of the interim agreement including the third Israeli redeployment, the opening up of the northern passage between Gaza and Ramallah, the abolition of the Civil Administration and the annulment of all Israeli military orders signed into law since June 1967.
8- Palestinian and Israeli negotiators shall go back to the permanent status talks on the basis of relevant UN resolutions including 242, 338 and 181 (dealing with the Palestinian refugee issue).
9- An armed multinational peace force shall be organized consisting of soldiers from the US, Canada, Turkey, Malaysia, India and Australia with the aim of enforcing this agreement and publicly declaring any violators.
10- The details of this agreement shall be announced by senior Palestinian and Israeli officials simultaneously on Palestine and Israel TV at 11:00 on the morning of Friday May 4, 2001.
Daoud Kuttab is a journalist who covered both intifadas and Director of the Institute of Modern Media at Al Quds University in Jerusalem.