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What do Palestinian ceasefires mean?

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What do Palestinian ceasefires mean?

At various times, it has been claimed in the international media that the Palestinians are observing a ceasefire with Israel. Indeed, the Palestinians make the ceasefire claim themselves in English language media outlets. In reality, these periods are not true ceasefires as understood in the Western world. The Arabic terms used to describe these phases have no direct correlation in English because they represent a different concept to that known in the West. The Palestinians consider these periods as time to regroup and rearm, and they only represent a reduction in the violence, not a cessation. Indeed, it has often been said that a Middle Eastern ceasefire is one in which Israel ceases and the Palestinians fire.

The two best-known "ceasefires" - the hudna that began in 2003 and the tahadiya initiative that was offered in 2006 - have much in common. Both began when the Palestinian side was under a great deal of pressure from Israeli defensive actions and both were only partially observed by the Palestinians, if at all.

The most recent phase, the tahadiya, was supposed to begin after the withdrawal from Gaza. The Palestinians offered to stop rocket and missile fire yet this period was characterized both by a constant barrage of Kassam rockets and mortar bombs fired on the Israeli city of Sderot and by the fact that the Palestinians took advantage of this period of relative calm to smuggle in enormous quantities of arms and ammunition, as well as to rebuild their terrorist infrastructure.

The earlier "ceasefire" began on June 29, 2003, when following talks with the Palestinian Authority, the Palestinian terror organizations declared a "hudna" - a term that has been interpreted abroad as a ceasefire. However, a hudna is a temporary respite from fighting designed to gain time to regroup and rearm. About two months later, following a series of terror attacks, the Palestinian terror organizations declared the hudna was at an end.

Under the first phase of the Roadmap, the Palestinian Authority is obligated to end terrorism by dismantling the terrorist infrastructure, confiscating illegal weapons and arresting those involved in planning and carrying out acts of terror. The hudna, however, was an internal Palestinian arrangement, which the Palestinian Authority used as a means for avoiding its obligations under the Roadmap to fight terrorism.

The hudna was used by the terrorist organizations themselves, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad, as a tactical ploy for gaining time to build up their strength for the next round of terrorist attacks. The hudna was a cover for the Palestinian terror organizations to plan new terror attacks, dig tunnels for smuggling in weapons, increase the range of the Kassam rockets, as well as to regroup and train their forces.

While interpreted abroad as a ceasefire, the term hudna was seen by the Palestinian terror groups and their supporters in the Arab world as a mere tactical truce in keeping with Islamic history. In the year 628, when the prophet Mohammed considered his forces to be too weak to overcome the rival Kuraysh tribes, he concluded with them a ten-year truce (hudna) referred to as the Hudaybiya accord. Less than two years later, having consolidated their power, the Muslim forces attacked the Kuraysh tribes and defeated them, thereby enabling Mohammed to conquer Mecca.

Since that time, Muslims have understood hudna to mean a tactical truce intended to allow a favorable shift in the balance of power. Once that occurred, the truce could be broken. It was, therefore, no coincidence that the Palestinian terror groups adopted the term hudna.

Hamas and Islamic Jihad declared that their hudna would last three months, while Fatah declared a six-month hudna. Yet, they did not wait even that long to renew terrorism. Since the hudna was declared in late June 2003, and even before the mid-August suicide bombing of a Jerusalem bus, six Israelis and one foreign national were murdered in terrorist attacks, 28 civilians were injured; 180 terror attacks in all took place, including 120 shootings; additionally 40 terror attacks were thwarted by Israel. The bus bombing in Jerusalem on August 19, 2003 claimed an additional 23 lives, 7 of them children, while 136 were injured, including 40 children. It was clear that the Palestinian terrorist organizations never had a real ceasefire in mind, let alone an end to terrorism.

Only by fulfilling the requirements of the Roadmap and the agreements signed by the Palestinians, i.e. dismantling the terrorist infrastructure and organizations as well as putting an end to incitement, will the Palestinians meet their obligations and commitments.

These texts are taken from material published by the Israel Ministry of Foreign affairs. with additional comments and hyperlinked materials. They were apparently published in connection with the Annapolis peace conference of 2007, but they have extensive applicability beyond it. They explain fundamentals of Israeli policy as well as the meaning of Zionism and history of the conflict.

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Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs text is at Israel, the Conflict and Peace. Original text  is copyright by Ami Isseroff and Zionism-Israel Center.

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