The Hamas Interest in the Tahdiya (Temporary Truce) with Israel

Vol. 8, No. 4    June 19, 2008

  • Hamas regards the temporary cease-fire as a tahdiya and not a hudna. A tahdiya – “a period of calm” – is used by Hamas to describe a simple cease-fire. A hudna implies recognition of the other party’s actual existence, without acknowledging its legitimacy
  • In an interview with Al-Jazeera (April 26, 2008), Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal clarified that for Hamas, a tahdiya is “a tactic in conflict management.” He added that it “is not unusual for the resistance…to escalate sometimes and to retreat a bit sometimes as the tide does….The tahdiya creates a formulation that will force Israel…to remove the siege…and if it happens it will be a remarkable achievement.”
  • Official sources in Israel have explained that Hamas’ interest in a lull in the fighting is a result of its “distress.” But the organization did not experience “distress.” Hamas has introduced and maintained law and order in Gaza, strengthened its overall control, suppressed opposition, and achieved broad popular support for its policies.
  • An important objective for Hamas is winning the Palestinian presidential election, which will be held when Mahmoud Abbas finishes his term of office in December. The lull will permit Hamas to prepare the field to take over from Abbas. Hamas is liable to claim that, according to Palestinian law, administrative authority should be passed on to the chairman of the parliament, who is a Hamas leader, or should be decided by the parliament itself, where Hamas has an overwhelming majority.
  • One diplomatic consequence of the tahdiya will be increasing pressure on Israel to accept a future reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah. That could lead to increasing demands on Israel to negotiate a permanent status arrangement with a joint Hamas-Fatah government, while Hamas remains committed to its political program of the elimination of Israel.
  • The cease-fire also grants Hamas a golden opportunity to expand its military build-up for the next round of terror and violence. Emulating Hizbullah’s strategy, Hamas is striving to acquire longer-range and more destructive missiles to be used for deterrence and as a sword on Israel’s neck.

After eight years of armed Intifada, countless Palestinian terrorist attacks, and more than 7,000 rockets fired against civilians in Israel, the Egyptian government succeeded in securing an agreement by Israel and Hamas for a cease-fire that took effect at 6:00 a.m. on June 19, 2008. Officially, the Israeli government argues that there is no understanding with Hamas, but only with Egypt. However, that formalism is not necessarily the perception of the international community.

The main terms of the unwritten agreement include the following:

  • All Gaza-Israel violence stops for six months. After three days, Israel will ease its blockade of Gaza, allowing more vital supplies in.
  • A week later, Israel will further ease restrictions at cargo crossings.
  • In the final stage, talks will be conducted about opening the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt and for a prisoner exchange to free IDF soldier Gilad Shalit, held by Hamas for two years.1

Hamas regards the temporary cease-fire as a tahdiya and not a hudna. The difference between the two Arabic terms is substantial. Hudna means “truce,” which is more concrete than tahdiya – “a period of calm” – which Hamas often uses to describe a simple cease-fire. In traditional Islamic thought, a hudna is negotiated between an Islamic entity and a non-Islamic entity, but it can be reversed the moment the Islamic side has gained sufficient strength to resume fighting. Nevertheless, a hudna implies recognition of the other party’s actual existence, without acknowledging its legitimacy.

A tahdiya has less standing than a hudna. Khaled Mashaal, Hamas’ leader, and his deputy in leadership, Musa Abu Marzouq, elaborated in recent months their interpretation of a tahdiya. In an interview with Al-Jazeera (April 26, 2008), Mashaal clarified that for Hamas, a tahdiya is “a tactic in conflict management and a phase in the framework of the resistance [meaning all forms of struggle].” He added that it “is not unusual for the resistance…to escalate sometimes and to retreat a bit sometimes as the tide does….The tahdiya creates a formulation that will force Israel…to remove the siege…and if it happens it will be a remarkable achievement….We are speaking of a tactical tahdiya….As long as there is occupation, there is no other way but resistance.”2

When asked about Mashaal’s “tactical tahdiya,” Musa Abu Marzouq explained that “the tahdiya is not a strategy or a goal itself, but it is a tactical step in this conflict….Our goal is to liberate our land and to bring about the return of our people. The resistance is a tool to reach this end.”3

Official sources in Israel have explained that Hamas’ interest in a lull in the fighting is a result of the “distress” it has suffered from the extended blockade of Gaza.4 Israel’s policy did in fact cause difficulties for Hamas, but these hardships do not explain Hamas’ strategic motives for the lull. The organization did not experience “distress” – neither in a strengthening of the opposition to the Hamas administration, nor in an increase of popular protests against it. In fact, the opposite is true. Even the official Israeli evaluation of Hamas’ first year of rule since its military takeover in June 2007 suggests that Hamas has managed to introduce and maintain law and order in the Gaza Strip, strengthen its overall control, suppress opposition, and achieve broad popular support for its policies.

 

Hamas’ Motivation: Legitimacy and Recognition

Hamas’ motives have nothing to do with “distress,” but rather with “opportunities” – that is, the objectives it seeks to attain in the international arena and especially in its own internal political arena. First, the lull in the fighting is meaningless for Hamas; it is not a cease-fire or a truce, but a temporary” cessation of hostilities with Israel. Next, Hamas is not committed to continuing the lull when the six months run out, and it can use any excuse it chooses to continue its terrorist campaign: Israeli building in the settlements, Israeli measures taken in Jerusalem, or IDF anti-terror measures in the West Bank. Hamas can also send other Palestinian organizations to do its dirty work.

The tahdiya agreement for a lull is an important achievement for Hamas. Hamas will gain the recognition it wants as the legitimate ruler of the Gaza Strip. Despite the fact that the Israeli government has defined Hamas-ruled Gaza as a hostile entity, Israel agreed to the continuation of trade with it, and even recognized the hostile entity’s authority to operate the Rafah crossing. Hamas regards that as immensely important and wants to exploit it as a lever to open the door to official relations with Europe, and to have itself removed from the various lists of terrorist organizations.

Another important objective for Hamas is winning the Palestinian presidential election, which will be held when Mahmoud Abbas finishes his term of office in December. Hamas wants to present itself in the contest as a legitimate ruling body worthy of inheriting the presidency. High-ranking Hamas figures have already stated that the organization will not recognize Abbas’ authority as president after December 2008.5

Hamas is liable to claim that, according to Palestinian law, administrative authority should be passed on to the chairman of the parliament, who is a Hamas leader, or should be decided by the parliament itself, where Hamas has an overwhelming majority. In other words, for Hamas, the lull in the fighting will permit the movement to prepare the field to take over from Abbas, thereby complementing its military takeover of Gaza. Hamas’ challenge is also the motivation behind Abbas’ desire to talk to Hamas about reaching an understanding about new elections, and it explains why Hamas has rejected the suggestion.

 

Main Implications of the Tahdiya

Hamas wants to exploit the lull in the fighting to upgrade its status in the international community in order to gain legitimacy for its campaign for the presidency after Abbas’ term is over in December 2008.

The cease-fire grants Hamas a golden opportunity to expand its military build-up for the next round of terror and violence. Emulating Hizbullah’s strategy, Hamas is striving to acquire longer-range and more destructive missiles to be used for deterrence and as a sword on Israel’s neck.

Israel has acknowledged Hamas, albeit unwillingly,  as the de facto ruling power in Gaza. Israel’s acceptance of the cease-fire is a blow to the international war on terror and gives immunity to Hamas and other terrorist organizations in Gaza, including al-Qaeda affiliates.

Another diplomatic consequence of the tahdiya will be increasing pressure on Israel to accept a reconciliation agreement between Hamas and Fatah in the future. That could lead to increasing demands on Israel to negotiate a permanent status arrangement with the joint Hamas-Fatah government, while Hamas remains committed to its political program for the elimination of Israel. It is important to recall that the entire Israeli-Palestinian negotiating track since the convening of the Annapolis conference was premised on the exclusion of Hamas and the ultimate achievement of an agreement between the Israeli government and the government of Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah alone.

Delaying the release of Cpl. Gilad Shalit to a later phase of the Israel-Hamas arrangement can have a demoralizing effect in Israel, for it sends a message that the recovery of captured soldiers is not the highest priority.

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Notes

1. http://www.startribune.com/world/20167939.html?location_refer+World:highlightModules:3

2. http://aljazeera.net/NR/exeres/41C8CBD6-5D3A-4F4B-B952-CFBF766D6B6F.htm? wbc_purpose=basic_current_current_current_Current

3. http://www.alwatan.sy/dindex.php?idn=32872

4. http://news.walla.co.il/?w=/22/1291534

5. http://www.al-sharq.com/DisplayArticle.aspx?xf=2008,June,article_20080608_103 &id=worldtoday&sid=arabworld

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Lt. Col. (res.) Jonathan D. Halevi is a senior researcher of the Middle East and radical Islam at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. He is a founder of the Orient Research Group Ltd. and is a former advisor to the Policy Planning Division of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

About Lt. Col. (ret.) Jonathan D. Halevi

Lt. Col. (ret.) Jonathan D. Halevi is a senior researcher of the Middle East and radical Islam at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. He is a co-founder of the Orient Research Group Ltd.