- Palestinian-Israeli crossfire on
"Ceasefire initiatives"

August 19, 2002 Edition 31

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>< “There is no ceasefire with occupation” - by Ghassan Khatib
Even when the Israeli army’s guns are completely silent, the occupation continues to forcefully restrict the rights of the Palestinian people.

>< “War fatigue may not be sufficient cause” - by Yossi Alpher
No progress appears likely as long as none of the leaders adopts a realistic strategy.

>< “No free ticket” - interview with Ghazi Hamad
No one can give guarantees that Israel will agree to an end of the occupation.

>< “The initiative for a ceasefire between Israelis and Palestinians” - by Eyal Erlich
If we can treat Palestinians with honor we can register tremendous achievements.

There is no ceasefire with occupation

by Ghassan Khatib

The truth is that the term “ceasefire” has no relevance in the current Israeli-Palestinian confrontations. The situation here is one where a belligerent illegal military occupation is being imposed by virtue of force on the Palestinian people who, as a result, are deprived of their basic rights including all of the important rights that derive from citizenship under a government, including the right to self-determination.

Consequently, the Palestinian people have resisted this occupation since its start in 1967. During that time, the resistance has taken on different forms. Sometimes Palestinian resistance has been one of armed struggle, while at other times--such as the first Intifada that began in 1987 with a groundswell of popular protest activities and civil disobedience--it has taken the shape of non-violent demonstration. Indeed, the only period in which there was no Palestinian resistance, especially a violent resistance, was the years of the peace process. The reason for that calm was that the Palestinian people were under the impression that this peace process would end the Israeli occupation--exactly what they had been fighting for. Israeli journalist Danny Rubinstein noted just days before the outbreak of the current phase of confrontation on September 29, 2000 that the most recent Palestinian attack had occurred four years before.

With this history in mind, for Palestinians to call a “ceasefire” now means to express willingness to live peacefully with the Israeli occupation, an occupation that is violent not only in the traditional sense in that its army shoots and kills Palestinians, but is violent at its heart. Because even when the Israeli army’s guns are completely silent, the occupation continues to forcefully restrict the rights of the Palestinian people.

One must never be fooled; the Israeli occupation is about the forceful confiscation of Palestinian land to build more settlements for expanding Israel’s presence on the land. The occupation is about the forceful demolition of Palestinian homes to erase Palestinian roots and historical claims. The occupation is about the violent restriction of Palestinian thought, political expression and political leadership. As such, the only way to have real calm and security and safety is if there is a real exchange: an end to this violent occupation in return for an end for an end to Palestinian violence.

To discuss a ceasefire in the sense of stopping all shooting at one another only makes sense in the context of a meaningful political process based on relevant international law and legality. That process should give the impression to both Palestinians and Israelis that it is truly concerned with producing a political settlement that will give Israelis their legitimate right to peace, security and economic prosperity, and Palestinians their legitimate right to self-determination, independence, liberty, an end to the occupation and, of course, economic prosperity.

If there is such a process, the call for a ceasefire will make sense, first because it will be possible and convincing and second, because it will create a process that is vital to both sides. That is why all tries at a ceasefire in isolation of a meaningful political have failed, including American government attempts through Central Intelligence Agency Director George Tenet and US envoy Anthony Zinni. Everything that has been tried has separated the security components from the other aspects of this conflict. There will be no meaningful ceasefire until there is an end to the occupation on the one hand and the realization of Palestinian self-determination on the other.-Published 19/8/02©

Ghassan Khatib is minister of labor in the new Palestinian Authority cabinet. He has served for many years as a political analyst and media contact.

Grassroots naivete or genuine momentum?

by Yossi Alpher

Since the outbreak of the Intifada nearly two years ago, groups on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian divide have been involved in attempts to organize some sort of ceasefire. Recently these initiatives appear to be accelerating and proliferating. One effort is unilateral; others involve both sides working together. Some are drafted in codes that are difficult for many outsiders to decipher. Others look simply naďve. Yet taken together, they cannot be ignored.

The unilateral initiative, much talked about in recent weeks, is understood by Israelis to have commenced with an attempt among Palestinians at the "field level" of Tanzim, along with leaders from Hamas and other organizations and with European Union assistance, to declare a ceasefire. It was interrupted briefly, but not stopped, by the Israeli assassination of Salah Shehadeh in Gaza in late July. More recently it apparently involves an attempt to draft a new, general document of understanding between the PLO and Hamas outlining the current aims of the Palestinian resistance and the means to be adopted in pursuing them. It proposes the formation of a unified command that appears to reflect discontent with the current Palestinian leadership.

From the Israeli standpoint, the disturbing part of this otherwise interesting exercise in self-reform is that the unilateral ceasefire being discussed is actually not mentioned explicitly in the document, and in any event is only partial: Hamas, according to reports, would, if it agreed, be permitted to attack Israelis in the West Bank and Gaza but not inside Israel. This is reminiscent of an earlier Fatah-Hamas agreement reached in Cairo in December 1995, which allegedly permitted Hamas to carry out suicide bombings only in areas outside Palestinian Authority control, i.e., only inside Israel. In other words, seven years ago it was convenient for Arafat and the PA to allow violence to continue outside the West Bank and Gaza. Now, for a variety of political and tactical reasons involving Israeli reoccupation and the Israeli reaction to suicide bombings, the opposite is the case: violence is okay inside the West Bank and Gaza, but not inside Israel.

This effort does not appear to reflect any sort of comprehensive strategic recognition on the part of Palestinians that violence will not advance their political goals; rather, the attitude toward a ceasefire is selective and tactical.

A second effort ostensibly does better. Initiated by Israeli Defense Minister Ben Eliezer--it is known as "Gaza and Bethlehem first." It calls for a gradual takeover of security control by Palestinian forces, first in Gaza and the southern West Bank, followed by Israeli withdrawal from parts of Area A it has reoccupied. It is based on an assessment that Palestinians are indeed suffering from war fatigue and wish to abandon violence, i.e., that Israel has "won" the war in the sense of persuading most Palestinian leaders to accept a ceasefire that offers no concrete political payoff beyond Israeli withdrawal to positions held prior to the Intifada.

This initiative is problematic from two standpoints. First, there is no Israeli commitment that, once quiet is restored, realistic political negotiations will be resumed: not over Sharon's a-state-in-50-percent-of-the-West-Bank-plan, but rather over something like the Saudi/Clinton plans. Hence even the best of ceasefires is not likely to last. Secondly, it is still not clear that Palestinian security commanders have fully internalized the need to reconstitute their security forces so that they dedicate themselves to preventing Palestinian terrorism. Too many Palestinian "reformers" understand the rebuilding of a security force as intended to more effectively oppose Israeli incursions rather than to stamp out terrorism. And Hamas and Islamic Jihad reject this entire ceasefire plan.

The third and most intriguing of the current initiatives is the "hudna" or traditional Arab tribal ceasefire. Initiated by a group of private Israelis, at one point about half a year ago the "hudna" idea even held the allegiance of president of Israel Moshe Katzav and was approved by the Palestinian Cabinet. Currently the organizers seek to stage a kind of mass "happening" in Jerusalem, with the blessings of Arafat, where a ceasefire will be declared at the popular level.

This kind of grassroots enthusiasm for peacemaking is impressive and encouraging. But it is doubtful that it will work. For one, Palestinian militants are not likely participants in the Jerusalem meeting. Nor would the Israeli delegation necessarily represent all key sectors of society, such as the settlers in the West Bank and Gaza. Hence the meeting could take place and a "popular" ceasefire be declared, yet violence could continue.

Perhaps most important, the "hudna" idea is clearly rejected by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who seeks Palestinian surrender rather than reconciliation, while Arafat's support is more a liability than an advantage in the eyes of the Israeli public, due to his lack of credibility. Indeed, both Sharon and US President George W. Bush, another key player whose support is vital, insist on the removal of Arafat before any serious progress can take place.

In general, none of the ceasefire initiatives appears to reflect a genuine process of soul searching on both sides regarding the root causes of the current conflict and ways to deal with them. Rather, they reflect war fatigue.

And under prevailing circumstances this is probably not a sufficient foundation for a stable ceasefire. With all due encouragement for the efforts of sincere people on both sides, no sustained progress, military or political, appears likely as long as not one of the three key leaders adopts a realistic strategy for ending the violence and returning to a fruitful peace process. And when that does happen--we won't need private ceasefire initiatives. -Published 19/8/2002©

Yossi Alpher is an Israeli strategic analyst. He is former Director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies, Tel Aviv University.

No free ticket

an interview with Ghazi Hamad
================================= What do you think of the recent discussions between the Palestinian factions of Fateh and Hamas and the papers drawn up declaring a ceasefire and a unified leadership?

Hamad: I have seen the papers of all the leaderships and the paper of Hamas itself and I have spoken much with the members of Hamas who are involved in the drafting of this paper. I think that Hamas still believes in the right to fight against Israel’s occupation. Hamas believes that Israel is occupying all of Palestine and Hamas is still against signing on to the borders of 1967--the borders of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank and Jerusalem.

In general, what is written in the paper is understood by everyone in their own way and I do not think that the paper will put restraints or borders on any group in fighting the occupation. Many of them still believe that Israel will not respect any agreement and will continue the assassinations and the demolition of homes and the killings of Palestinians. There is no ceasefire, but there is some placing of a system on fighting the occupation. Hamas has rejected the initiative. Why?

Hamad: No one can give guarantees that Israel will agree to an end of the occupation and they [Hamas] told the other factions frankly that you cannot give Israel a free ticket, where they get everything and we get nothing. How can you offer something good to Israel now, when we have received nothing in these negotiations? For now, let us stay away from putting our final signature [on the agreement], Hamas said. I think that some of the faction leaders have been convinced by the ideas of Hamas.

Hamas has become very rigid on this point, in fact, and I talked with [Hamas political leader Abdel Aziz] Rantisi about this and he said very clearly that “we do not recognize the 1967 borders at a time when Israel is killing Palestinians in the heart of Nablus and other Palestinian towns.” At the same time, I don’t think that the Palestinian Authority cares much about this. Now they have reached their own agreement, the “Gaza and Bethlehem first” plan. It is part of the policy of [Palestinian President Yasser Arafat] that he does not care too much about the opposition, and will continue to run the negotiations with Israel as he likes. Hamas has always said that it will never be the cause of a Palestinian civil war. But by continuing to carry out attacks inside the Green Line, Hamas makes the Palestinian Authority and Fateh look weak. In a way, it defeats them without a civil war.

Hamad: I think that any time Hamas feels a danger of this, it knows when to ease the situation. Now we have had three weeks without suicide bombings--even Israel says that the situation is very quiet. I think there is an open channel between Hamas and the Palestinian leadership and it is not so difficult for them to reach a compromise [before civil war breaks out]. Everyone believes that civil war means the destruction of Palestinian society. What would be the conditions under which Hamas would be willing to lay down arms against Israel? Or inside the Green Line?

Hamad: Hamas does not reject the idea of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, but [Hamas spiritual leader] Sheikh Yassin always says that we cannot forget the rest of Palestine and that the majority of Palestinians are refugees who have the right to return to their homes. Hamas still believes that there is no way to give up on the rest of Palestine--but maybe it can accept a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza as a temporary solution.-Published 19/8/02©

Ghazi Hamad heads the Islamic Salvation Front, a political party based in the Gaza Strip that supported Islamist political participation in the post-Oslo general elections. He also served as editor of Al Risala newspaper.

The initiative for a ceasefire between Israelis and Palestinians

by Eyal Erlich

It is clear to all that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has reached a terrible low point.

About six months ago I proposed, together with former Knesset member Abd al-Wahab Darawshe and Professor Yosef Ginat, the idea of a "hudna" (an Arabic term meaning a ceasefire for a limited period). The idea was embraced by President of Israel Moshe Katzav and by the leadership of the Palestinian Authority (PA). The concept behind the initiative is to apply the traditional Arab mechanism for resolving conflicts to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. The focus of this mechanism is on honor. We feel that if we can learn to treat Palestinians with honor we can register tremendous achievements politically. This sounds simple, but I am certain that this is the key to solving the problem.

Following are the details of the proposal, as presented to the prime minister by President Katzav, and as approved by the leadership of the PA (formal approval by the Palestinian Cabinet was given on Dec. 17, 2001):

Phase I: President Moshe Katzav, leading a delegation of notables, comes to the Palestinian National Assembly in Ramallah. He delivers a speech "from heart to heart" and calls upon both peoples immediately to commence a total ceasefire for a year (hudna). His speech is followed by a vote in which the Assembly ratifies the hudna.

Phase II begins immediately after the ceremony in Ramallah and continues for several weeks. Both sides act to return to the status quo ante September 2000.

Phase III follows (dependent on Israeli approval and on the PA proving that it is making a 100% effort to activate the hudna): negotiations commence between Israel and the PA in an attempt to reach a political settlement--interim or permanent, as decided by the two parties. If the parties register progress but do not reach agreement during the hudna period, the Palestinians are committed to extend the hudna for another year.

I believe with all my heart that realization of this initiative could open a new era in the Middle East. But Prime Minister Ariel Sharon declared his rejection of the initiative in late December 2001.

Half a year passed, a terrible half year in which the circle of violence and suffering expanded and blood was spilled like water on both sides. We decided not to give up, and to try again to promote a ceasefire. I must note that we found in Yasir Arafat a serious partner to this concept. On June 5, 2002 (a somewhat symbolic date) we renewed the initiative. My good friend Abd al-Wahab Darawshe and I met with Arafat in his office in Ramallah.

I proposed to Arafat an alternative road to a ceasefire: instead of an official delegation appointed by the government of Israel that addresses the Palestinian people on behalf of the government, I proposed to organize an Israeli civil delegation, composed of Israeli citizens, each of whom represents only himself. It is this delegation that would offer the Palestinian people a ceasefire. I was delighted and appreciative when Arafat agreed to the idea and committed the PA to the task of achieving a ceasefire.

We invited a number of individuals and institutions to join us. We appreciate the readiness of [former Foreign Minister] Professor Shlomo Ben Ami to join the team leading the initiative, together with [industrialist] Beni Gaon. We also turned to the Parents Circle--the Family Forum [bereaved Israeli and Palestinian families supporting reconciliation and peace], who accepted our invitation and enthusiastically joined the ceasefire initiative.

A coordination meeting between our team and representatives of the PA was held in Jerusalem on August 7, 2002, to advance the ceasefire project. The Palestinian participants were Yasir Abd Rabo, Nabil Kassis, Hassan Asfour, Samih al-Abid, Samir Rantisi and Ziad Abu Zayyad. The Israelis were Shlomo Ben Ami, Beni Gaon, Abd al-Wahab Darawshe, Haim Assa, Alberto Spektorowski, Parents Circle representatives Yitzhak Frankental, Roni Hirshenson and Booma Shavit, and myself.

We agreed to promote a concept slightly different from the initial idea that I presented to Arafat. We will organize a large convocation in Jerusalem to declare a ceasefire and an end to hostile acts, to be held in mid-September. (We also agreed to use the term "ceasefire and cessation of all hostile acts" instead of "hudna".) We will invite 250 Palestinian representatives and 250 Israeli representatives. The Palestinian group will comprise many of the 88 members of the Palestinian parliament, as well as most of the Palestinian leadership. We also agreed to a joint effort to invite international personalities to the Jerusalem meeting, to provide sponsorship and thereby to enhance the chances for success.

We are working shoulder to shoulder with our Palestinian partners to finally bring about calm in our region.-Published 19/8/2002©

Eyal Erlich, 44, a former journalist, is a lawyer and businessman.

Editors Ghassan Khatib and Yossi Alpher can be reached at and, respectively. is an internet newsletter that presents Palestinian and Israeli viewpoints on prominent issues of concern. Each edition addresses a specific issue of controversy. maintains complete organizational and institutional symmetry between its Palestinian and Israeli sides.