The Palestinian Ceasefire: A Window of Opportunity Looming on the Horizon

by Mohammad Daraghmeh
Jerusalem - It looks like the ceasefire, recently negotiated by Palestinian factions in Cairo, was part of a more complex political process, and not just a unilateral ceasefire that can be repudiated with ease. This decision was accompanied by fundamental changes in the positions of Islamic factions regarding participation in the Palestinian Liberation Organization, Legislative Council elections and Executive System of the National Authority.

This change would not have happened if the leaderships of these factions had not felt encouraging changes coming from the other side: the release of hundreds of prisoners; deportees starting to return to their homes; the disappearance of gunships from Palestinian airspace; the return of some personal security as a result of a halt in assassinations; a halt in mass arbitrary arrest campaigns; and the beginning of Israeli withdrawals from some Palestinian areas.

The election of Mahmoud Abbas as President of the Palestinian National Authority earlier this year spearheaded the end of the continued state of bloody violence between Palestinians and Israelis over the past four years. Palestinians chose him as President, fully aware of his agenda, based on reform and putting an end to violence. Israelis welcomed his election, knowing well his position based on the principle of rejecting what irritates him most: violence.

Although the negotiations that followed the election of Abu Mazen, and culminated in the Sharm El Sheikh understandings, did not result in a dramatic change in the relations between the two parties, they have opened new possibilities for ending one of the bloodiest and most complicated of all political crises.

The two parties have discovered, despite the wide gap between them, an area of common interest that fulfils a joint and urgent need for both of them: their interest in putting an end to violence. They are both ready to admit to the failure of their violent confrontations and to what they resulted in over the past four years in terms of casualties and destruction, as well as their failure in achieving any of their objectives.

Violence never brought Palestinians any closer to their objective of an independent state. On the contrary, it took them even farther from it. Nor did violence enable the Israelis to break the Palestinian will and bring them to capitulation and acceptance of an Israeli dictated solution.

Hani Al Masri, an analyst for the Palestinian newspaper Al Ayyam, says: "The Palestinian side found in the ceasefire a chance to emerge from the circle of violence, whose losses exceed, beyond comparison, what they achieve. The Israeli side found in this ceasefire a chance to stop a war that has proved achieving victory by force is not possible."

But this opportunity would soon be given a difficult test, when Israel started to procrastinate in fulfilling the understandings and agreements reached by the two parties. Consequently, some Palestinian factions started talking about the futility of the ceasefire and the need to revert to armed struggle.

Hani Al Masri went on to say: "The ceasefire will continue to be on the verge of a collapse unless Israel implements the agreements and understandings, such as the ones reached in Sharm El Sheikh, and others, and redeploys from West Bank villages, back to lines before the Intifada erupted on 28 September 2000."

He added: "Armed attacks that are now faced with rejection and repudiation by most factions may soon be resumed because there is still an occupation, settlements and a separation wall. If this continues and Palestinians do not feel any changes in their lives, we may soon see yet another setback."

Israeli reports indicate that settlement is continuing with an ever-increasing pace, especially in settlement blocks close to the Green Line and Jerusalem, which the Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon expressed his wishes to annex to Israel. The Sharon government announced a package of projects this year for new construction in these blocks, one of which included the issue of 3500 building licenses in an area close to the settlement of Ma’ale Adomim, where building interrupts the geographic contiguity between the South and the North of the West Bank. This is reflected, on the Palestinian side, with tangible gaps in the ceasefire agreement, the decision over which depends on a number of factions and not just one central authority.

Dr. Khalil Shikaki, one of the most prominent experts in the Arab-Israeli conflict, says: "The two parties can enhance the available opportunity, each from his side. Israel can do that by announcing that the Road Map has entered the stage of implementation, and that it will carry out its obligations under this plan over the coming six months, foremost of which are ending settlement activities, dismantling illegal outposts, and bringing back the situation in the West Bank to its pre-September 2000 Intifada situation."

He adds: "The Palestinian side, in turn, could do that [enhance the available opportunity] through convincing Israel of the seriousness of the ceasefire and the steps taken in this respect."

Yet Shikaki does not expect this political development to take place, in light of the Israeli Prime Minister’s persistence to stick to his plan, on the one hand, of refusing to halt settlement activities, and on the other hand, because of the fragile ceasefire remaining in the hands of the Palestinian factions.

Political and security sources close to Palestinian President Abbas indicate that he is fully aware of Sharon’s intentions regarding the settlements, yet he insists on implementing his program, especially regarding ending violence, because he knows that it is, first and foremost, in the best interest of Palestinians.

Many observers see that an end to violence and serious steps by Israel to ease pressures on the daily lives of Palestinians, as agreed in Sharm El Sheikh, such as withdrawal from cities and villages, releasing a large number of prisoners, lifting checkpoints, and stopping the pursuit of fugitives, may create momentum for new political action in the Palestinian and Israeli societies that help them revert to understandings and agreements reached prior to the Intifada.

Among such actions are changes in the Israeli political scene, which, in most cases, moves to the beat of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict: moving left in climates of hope and understanding, and right in climates of blood and war.

Among them as well is Palestinian indulgence in a democratic transformation process, whereby all Palestinian factions and forces, including Islamic forces, participate in elections and join the legislative and executive institutions of the National Authority, and consequently make all relevant changes in the structures and tools of these factions.


* Mohammad Daraghmeh is a Palestinian journalist and commentator.

Source: Common Ground News Service, April 10, 2005.

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Actions Are Needed To Make Peace A Reality
A Simple Plan
Urgent Steps Needed To Sustain The Fragile Window Of Opportunity
Promote Negotiations or Abandon the Two-State Solution
The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly
Only Public Support Can Sustain a Window of Opportunity
Palestinians and Israelis Should Talk Amongst Themselves
What to Do with the Gaza Settlements
Learning from Previous Mideast Mistakes
Religion and the Issue of Jerusalem
Religion Must be Part of the Solution
The Direction of Peace and its Challenges
Palestinian Refugees in Lebanon: Worthwhile Steps before Final Settlement
Achieving Long-Term Political Change in the Middle East
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Other articles in this series

Actions Are Needed To Make Peace A Reality by Nizar Abdel-Kader
A Simple Plan by Hady Amr
Urgent Steps Needed To Sustain The Fragile Window Of Opportunity by Dr. Ziad Asali
Promote Negotiations or Abandon the Two-State Solution by Naomi Chazan
The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly by Khaled Duzdar
Only Public Support Can Sustain a Window of Opportunity by Jason Erb
Palestinians and Israelis Should Talk Amongst Themselves by Shira Herzog
What to Do with the Gaza Settlements by Saad Eddin Ibrahim
Learning from Previous Mideast Mistakes by Daoud Kuttab
Religion and the Issue of Jerusalem by Jonathan Kuttab
Religion Must be Part of the Solution by Rabbi David Rosen
The Direction of Peace and its Challenges by Hazem Saghiyeh
Palestinian Refugees in Lebanon: Worthwhile Steps before Final Settlement by Michael Young
Achieving Long-Term Political Change in the Middle East by Dov S. Zakheim