The role of trust – and mistrust
Opposing groups who are in violent conflicts inevitably hate and mistrust each other. It is therefore helpful for cease-fire negotiations to be supported by a mediator who is sufficiently trusted by the parties. The mediator can facilitate these negotiations through indirect dialogue – referred to as “shuttle diplomacy” – when the parties are unwilling or unable to meet face-to-face.
In the Gaza crisis, Qatar, supported by the United States, is playing the mediator role. Qatari mediators are attempting to negotiate a deal between Hamas and Israel that could include the release of roughly 50 civilian hostages from Gaza in exchange for a three-day cease-fire.
There are two other ways cease-fires can be strengthened in order to mitigate the hatred and mistrust between the parties. The first is by deploying cease-fire monitors – independent observers on the field of battle – who investigate alleged cease-fire violations. Their presence can help to deter violations.
The second way is by setting up communication channels between the mediator and representatives of the warring parties to resolve disputes and address violations that inevitably arise. The goal is to prevent small-scale violations from escalating into large-scale violations that could herald a return to hostilities.
Political will is important
Israel and Hamas can overcome the technical difficulties of a Gaza cease-fire if they have the political will to do so. It is relevant that Israel and Hamas have previously negotiated cease-fires and truces in Gaza. And in 2023 a truce between Israel and the Gaza-based Islamic Jihad militant group was brokered by Egyptian mediators after cross-border attacks. A cease-fire brokered by the U.S. in November 2012 lasted 18 months. But none of the cease-fires was likely to hold in the long term because they were not linked to a political resolution of the Israel-Palestine conflict.
In responding to the Gaza crisis, some world leaders have appeared confused about the distinction between a truce, a humanitarian pause, a cease-fire and a cessation of hostilities. In general, there is no international consensus on the meaning of these terms. In Gaza, as in every case, the cease-fire objectives, rules and procedures matter more than the labels that are used.
The current focus of international calls for a cease-fire is on humanitarian relief as a short-term objective. But the humanitarian situation, and the need to protect civilians in Gaza, will remain critical in the medium to long term.
The question of a permanent cease-fire and long-term security arrangement will have to be part of any negotiations to finally resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. If the vision of a two-state solution is realized, the challenge will be to ensure that both Israel and an independent Palestinian state can enjoy sovereignty and adequate self-defense without threatening each other.
Laurie Nathan is affiliated with the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, University of Notre Dame.
Source: The Conversation