Can a Middle East ceasefire lead to lasting peace?

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As Israel and Hamas enter the second day of their second 72-hour ceasefire in less than one week, the rest of the world can only watch and wonder if this latest discontinuance of violence will leading to a workable peace.


The second ceasefire, negotiated Tuesday, has already lasted longer than the previous one, which was announced August 1 and lasted only hours. The failure of the first ceasefire was immediately followed by some of the deadliest hours of fighting in past weeks, demonstrating the tenuous nature of temporary truces.

Israeli military forces have been bombarding Gaza for weeks, killing more than 1,800 Palestinians and damaging thousands of targets, including a power plant that provided Gaza residents with essential service. More than 60 Israelis have died in the conflict and nearly 3,000 rockets have been fired at Israel from Gaza.


Will the latest ceasefire hold? It's hard to say, but analysts consulted by Fusion say there are several key ingredients needed for a truce to lead to peace.

A desire to stop fighting

One recent poll found that 86.5 percent of Israelis opposed the initial cease-fire attempt. Hamas outright rejected that effort.

There are reasons to be hopeful this time, however. Israel now says it is withdrawing troops from Gaza and Hamas is now willing to discuss terms of an agreement. The New York Times has reported that people on the ground seem optimistic.

Conrad C. Crane, the chief of historical services for the Army Heritage and Education Center in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, said that sometimes a successful ceasefire is all about the timing.


"Generally they stick when both sides are tired of getting hammered, or both feel they have achieved their goals," he said in an email. "The Israelis have been involved in many clashes in the region where cease-fires have eventually held, usually negotiated by U.S. or U.N., after Israeli casualties became intolerable and it became apparent they could make no more progress, or they thought they had achieved objectives."

Israel entered the cease-fire believing it had destroyed all known tunnels in Gaza that have been used by militants carrying out attacks on Israelis, a chief objective of its ground invasion. The fate of the peace may depend on whether the tunnel network has been rendered unusable.


Set clear conditions

The parties involved need to be detailed when describing what the ceasefire will entail, according to Page Fortna, a professor at the Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies at Columbia University who has written extensively about the subject. She said the agreement last week likely wasn't too specific, which is typical for a shorter reprieve. "This ambiguity seems to be at the heart of what undid the cease-fire," she wrote in a recent blog post.


There's a reason why cease-fire agreements, even the ones meant to lead to a more permanent peace, aren't always specific. Each party wants to preserve their own interests and may have political or economic considerations that lead them to avoid laying down their weapons, she said.

The formality of an agreement can also help. If a ceasefire is administered by the United Nations or has the public approval of a rebel leader, people tend to take it more seriously. "While they seem maybe just symbolic, they do actually make a difference," she said. "It kind of gives it more weight."


Find a trustworthy mediator

Every mediator, whether it be an individual country or a body like the U.N., comes with its own biases. But those can be overcome if the mediator is able to treat all parties fairly, according to Jack Christofides, a director at the Department of Peacekeeping Operations at the United Nations.


"The more confidence that people have in the cease-fire mechanism, the less likely it is that they're going to break it, because they're going to be called out," he said. A good mediator isn't necessarily the most neutral nation or organization, but is respected within the context of the negotiations for holding each side to the terms of the agreement.

Christofides cites the 2006 conflict between Israel and Lebanon as an example of a successfully brokered arrangement. In that instance, the United Nations Security Council helped enforce the boundaries for each side's military forces. "There was a clear line of withdraw and the parties knew exactly where that line was and respected it," he said.


Keep them separated

One way to preserve a cease-fire is simply to keep both sides apart from one another. Any agreement should spell out where military forces can operate. "Don't go running around to places where you're going to run into each other," said Columbia University's Fortna. That's difficult in a place like Gaza, though, since it's relatively small.


The takeaway

Each conflict presents its own unique challenges, but experts agree that there are some basic tenets that can help. In the end, however, those with the weapons need to want peace to work.


Says Fortna, "People whose hearts aren't in it, they're going to be more likely to find an excuse to break it."

Ted Hesson was formerly the immigration editor at Fusion, covering the issue from Washington, D.C. He also writes about drug laws and (occasionally) baseball. On the side: guitars, urban biking, and fiction.

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