Israel Resource Review 11th March, 2005


The Palestinian "Temporary Cease-Fire":
A Definition of Terms
Lt. Col. Jonathan D. Halevi

[This paper is excerpted from a presentation made for the "Knesset Forum on the Middle East" on March 8th, 2005, under the framework of the Cneter for Near East Policy Research and the Jerusalem Democracy Project]

• The election of Mahmud Abbas (Abu Mazen)…has brought about a change in the Palestinian Authority's policy on continuing the "armed intifada." At the same time, the paramount interest of Hamas and Islamic Jihad is to reorganize and rebuild their capabilities after they were severely degraded by the Israel Defense Forces.

• The "calm" that the terror organizations are supplying is aimed primarily at enabling the Palestinian Authority to negotiate a hudna (cessation of hostilities) with Israel from a more comfortable political position in which the political "ball" is in Israel's court.

• The "hudna" offered by the Palestinians has two main aspects: that it be mutually obligatory, and that it be conditional on Israel's performance with regard to a long list of Palestinian demands (releasing prisoners, ceasing military actions in the PA territories, removing checkpoints, resolving the status of wanted fugitives, stopping the construction of the security fence, etc.).

• According to the expanded Palestinian concept of hudna, "resistance to occupation" remains legitimate…includes a failure to dismantle the terror infrastructure, international pressure on Israel to show flexibility and restraint even after outbreaks of terror, and acceptance of Hamas's integration into the PA - in effect, acquiescing to that organization's political legitimacy.

"Calm" Does Not Mean "Cease-Fire"

The election of Mahmud Abbas (Abu Mazen) on 9 January 2005 as Chairman of the Palestinian Authority, along with Israel's political and military pressure, has brought about a change in PA policy on continuing the "armed intifada." The negotiations that Abu Mazen is conducting with Palestinian terror organizations, headed by Hamas and Islamic Jihad, have already produced basic understandings on new rules for the struggle, primarily involving the rehabilitation of the PA, acceptance of the new rules of the game, discussion of relations between the armed factions and the PA, and basic agreement on a period of "calm" (tahdi'a) in the security sphere.1 Here it is important to focus on the Arabic terminology being used and not rely on the English word "cease-fire" that is often cited in the Western press.

The term "calm" represents a careful approach by both the PA and the terror organizations. It signifies a declaration of intent that does not require an agreement between the sides and is meant to enable continued discussions with Israel on the conditions for a hudna or cessation of hostilities.2 It is neither a unilateral cease-fire nor an acceptance of Israel's conditions, but rather a reversible, tactical step if Israel does not provide the appropriate political compensation according to Palestinian expectations. On the Palestinian side, there is broad agreement that the PA will not grant Israel a "free cease-fire."3

The "calm" on the part of the terror organizations is aimed primarily at enabling the Palestinian Authority to negotiate a hudna with Israel from a more comfortable political position in which the political "ball" is in Israel's court. The announcement by Israel's chief of staff (on 28 January 2005) that the IDF is curtailing offensive military actions in PA territory4 is regarded as an important signal, but this by no means satisfies Palestinian demands.5

The hudna proposed by the Palestinian side is based on two main principles:

a. A mutually obligatory hudna: By means of the principle of reciprocity, the Palestinians are trying to evade their responsibility for terror over the past four and a half years, seeking to undermine Israel's claim to be defending itself against a terror offensive. As Hamas views it, such a stance reflects the "position of strength" the Palestinians have gained through "armed resistance" in forcing a unilateral Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and northern Samaria that is not conditioned on any Palestinian concession.6

b. A conditional hudna with "escape clauses": The Palestinian commitment to the proposed cease-fire does not rest on political, legal, or moral recognition of the illegitimacy of Palestinian terror but rather on political cost-benefit calculations. Therefore, in presenting their conditions for implementing the hudna, the Palestinians assume that the terror will likely be renewed if Israel fails to meet those conditions. The paramount interest of Hamas and Islamic Jihad is to reorganize and rebuild their capabilities after they were severely degraded by the Israel Defense Forces. Thus, Hamas leader Khaled Mashal referred to the hudna as a "rest for the warrior."7

Palestinian Conditions for a Cease-Fire

The Palestinian Authority is presenting extensive initial conditions for negotiations on a hudna that is supposed to replace the short-lived tahdi'a. The Palestinian demands that have taken shape in the negotiations with the terror organizations include the following:8

a. The terror organizations demand the release of all Palestinian prisoners as a "basic condition" for the hudna.

b. Ending Israeli military activity in PA territory.

c. Upholding all aspects of the PA's "sovereignty" (including control of airspace, water resources, etc.).

d. Israeli withdrawal to the lines of 29 September 2000 and removal of checkpoints, roadblocks, and military emplacements that restrict Palestinian freedom of movement.

e. Ending the policy of "targeted interceptions."

f. Resolving the problem of wanted fugitives via an agreement that was reached between Israel and the Palestinian Authority in 2003.

g. Ceasing construction of the security fence and construction in settlements.

For Abu Mazen, Cease-Fire Does Not Mean an End to "Resistance"

According to the expanded Palestinian concept of hudna, "resistance to occupation" remains legitimate as a major element in sustaining the struggle against Israel simultaneously with the opening of political channels. According to Abu Mazen, "resistance to occupation" is "a right that is implicit in international covenants," one that "the Palestinian people will never relinquish." In Abu Mazen's view, this "right" is to be fitted into current political circumstances in a way that brings maximum benefit in both international public opinion and at the political level, and prevents the continued "tarnishing" of the Palestinian struggle by defining it as terrorism.9

In this context, political and popular agitation (in the form of violent demonstrations) against the security fence is viewed as a successful model of the preferred approach for the Palestinian Authority. Even though Abu Mazen himself disparaged turning the intifada into a military struggle, "resistance to occupation" also includes, according to some of the terror organizations, the use of weapons in the territories (including Jerusalem) against military targets and settlers in response to what they perceive as Israeli "aggression." Abu Mazen indicated this himself when he stated in March 2003 that "resistance by any means is legitimate" with regard to Israeli settlers.10

Since his election, Abu Mazen has sought to restore public confidence in the Palestinian Authority and its leadership, restore normalcy to the PA, strengthen the status of the Palestinian security forces, subordinate the struggle against Israel to policy considerations, and reorganize Palestinian society through democratic elections, integration of all forces into the political structures, and enforcement of law and order. Preferring dialogue with the terror organizations to confrontation, while also carrying out a rapid process of democratization that is open to all, Abu Mazen is garnering broad support for his leadership while creating room to maneuver in the first stage of the political processes involving Israel and the United States.

Abu Mazen's Strategy: Change the Focus from Palestinian Terror to Israeli Occupation

Abu Mazen wants to be viewed as someone who has met the conditions of the first stage of the road map with regard to political and security reforms, and as someone who deals appropriately with Palestinian terror, even if this proves more complicated and time-consuming than initially expected.

Beyond the tactical objective of moving the ball to the Israeli court and changing the focus of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from Palestinian terror to the "Israeli occupation," Abu Mazen wants to get the U.S. administration and the European Union to pressure Israel to implement the principle of withdrawal from the rest of the West Bank. He further seeks to accelerate the process of recognizing a Palestinian state in temporary borders as a complementary step to the disengagement process, while launching negotiations on a final settlement. The Palestinian Authority has an interest in deferring the road map's "tests" regarding neutralization of the terror infrastructure to a later stage of the establishment of the Palestinian state.



a. The Palestinian Authority does not entirely reject the principle of armed struggle ("under appropriate circumstances") and seeks to legitimize "resistance to occupation" in international public opinion.

b. Abu Mazen prefers the path of dialogue and understanding with the terror organizations and does not aim to dismantle the terror infrastructure, which remains as a potential threat to both the Palestinian Authority and Israel.

c. The conditional hudna may turn out to be a political trap for Israel that constrains its freedom of action against terror.

d. The international community may demand that Israel show political flexibility and great restraint, even if terror breaks out, in light of Abu Mazen's image as "the only pragmatic option" on the Palestinian side.

e. After the stage of containment, which aims at stabilizing the Authority's status both domestically and in the eyes of the international community, the Palestinian Authority may launch an intensified political offensive while renewing the "legitimate" popular struggle against the "Israeli occupation," which carries a high potential for conflict at a time when Israel is in an inferior position both politically and in terms of public opinion.

f. The integration of Hamas and other organizations into the Palestinian government may enhance their political power and gain them political legitimacy without requiring them to discard their guiding ideology of terror. Israel's acceptance of this process could be interpreted as acquiescence. The appointment of Mazen Sinokrot as a minister for national economy in Abu Ala new cabinet should be understood also as a message to Hamas. In the 90's Sinokrot, at that time president of the Islamic holding company Beit Al-Mal, was allegedly involved in funneling moneys to the Hamas. Intelligence reports on Beit Al-Mal activities urged Israel and the US to designate Beit Al-Mal as terrorist organization on 20 May 1998 and on 4 December 2001 respectively.

It should be stressed that, even after the Sharm el-Sheikh summit, Palestinian security forces haven't confiscated illegal firearms, nor have they incarcerated active terrorists, except for a handful who were only jailed for a few hours and then released. Furthermore, the Palestinian terror has not ended. In the Gaza Strip the Palestinian terrorist organizations preserve law intensive warfare against the IDF and the Israeli civilians which includes planting explosive charges on the main road used mainly by Israelis, shooting at Israeli military outposts and firing mortar shells and Qassam rockets "as a response" to "hundreds recorded violations of the tahdi'a by Israel and threatening further actions.11

The west Bank is still a beehive of terror. During the recent weeks the terrorist organizations were responsible for committing suicide bombing attack in Tel Aviv , detonating bobby-trapped car near Joseph tomb in Nablus, several shooting attacks and attempts to detonate roadside explosive charges and another bobby-trapped car. In addition the Israeli security services uncovered recently in northern Samaria terrorist infrastructure which strived successfully to develop capability to manufacture Qassam rockets and improved explosive charges. It should be noted that according to official Intelligence reports, the number of warnings for terrorist attacks originated from Palestinian territories is yet high. .



2. In 1994, the Saudi grand mufti, Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin Baz, clarified that any hudna (cessation of hostilities) was only temporary: "The peace between the leader of the Muslims in Palestine and the Jews does not mean that the Jews will permanently own the lands which they now possess. Rather it only means that they would be in possession of it for a period of time until either the truce comes to an end, or until the Muslims become strong enough to force them out of Muslim lands." "Fatwa Concerning the Peace Treaty,", quoted in Dore Gold, Hatred's Kingdom: How Saudi Arabia Supports the New Global Terrorism (Washington: Regnery, 2003), pp. 195-6.





7. Ibid.



10. Ibid.


Lt. Col. Jonathan D. Halevi is a researcher of the Middle East and radical Islam, and a founder of the Orient Research Group Ltd. He is a former advisor to the Policy Planning Division of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The views expressed above do not necessarily reflect those of the IDF, the Israeli Defence Forces.

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