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Israel-hamas Deal: What Makes a Truce Lead to Lasting Peace?

After six weeks of war, Israel and Hamas have agreed to a temporary truce that would pause fighting for four days and make way for an exchange of captives and prisoners.

Since October 7, when Hamas launched an attack on Israel that killed 1,200 people, Gaza has been devastated by bombardments of air and ground attacks that have left more than 14,000 Palestinians dead, mostly women and children.

On Wednesday, Israel’s government agreed to a pause in fighting that could begin as soon as Friday.

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has insisted that the truce is temporary and that the war will continue after it ends. However, there are numerous examples in the past century of truces that have been instrumental in ending wars – as well as many that didn’t.

Here’s a look at truces from previous conflicts, what have we learned from them, and whether the pause between Israel and Hamas can lead to lasting peace.

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Pauses that led to peace

Even small measures of trust and goodwill on both sides allow ceasefires to develop into lasting long-term peace, said Madhav Joshi, a research professor and associate director of the Peace Accords Matrix at the University of Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies.

With “a negotiated agreement between adversaries… where reforms are pursued across many different policy domains,” real peace may be the outcome, he said.

Ethiopia – TPLF agreement (2022): Two years of fighting between the Ethiopian government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) in the north of the country, and failed ceasefire attempts, led to the deaths of at least 100,000 people killed in the war by late 2022.

But on November 2, 2022, the two sides signed the Pretoria Agreement, which halted the fighting between the Ethiopian government forces and the TPLF.

Joshi told Al Jazeera that the Pretoria Agreement is an excellent example of how a pause in fighting can lead to peace.

Yet what happened in Ethiopia goes far beyond what Israel and Hamas have agreed to. Their deal has no formal written text, no monitoring mechanism and includes no responsibility on either side to address the deeper root causes underlying their conflict.

In Ethiopia, by contrast, both parties agreed to a permanent end to hostilities, on both sides, along with the disarmament of the TPLF and reintegration of the Tigrayan people.

“While a larger peace process faces many obstacles, the agreement in Ethiopia includes a verification mechanism, a framework and commitment to address underlying political differences and matters arising out of the conflict. And in this case, that’s all that’s been necessary in finding a way towards peace,” he said.

A year after the deal in Ethiopia, peace has largely held — even though much of Tigray remains devastated.

Korean Armistice Agreement (1953): Technically, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) and the Republic of Korea (South Korea) are still in a state of war since they never signed a peace deal after a bloody three-year war.

South Korea was backed by the US in the war, and North Korea by communist China and the Soviet Union. An estimated 2 million people died, though some accounts suggest the death toll could have been as high as 5 million.

Then, in July 1953, the fighting halted under an armistice agreement negotiated by the United States, United Nations and North Korea.

South Korea’s then-President Syngman Rhee refused to sign the agreement — he was insisting that his government be allowed to rule all of the Korean Peninsula.

Still, the other actors involved agreed to “complete cessation of hostilities and of all acts of armed force until a final peaceful settlement is achieved”.

They marked a 250km (155 miles) long and approximately 4km (2.5 miles) wide demilitarised zone between the two countries.

Since then, despite frequent tensions between North and South Korea, the two have avoided a major military conflagration.

Gulf War (1991): After 100,000 Iraqi troops invaded Kuwait on August 2, 1990, the UN Security Council responded with a trade embargo and sanctions on Iraq.

By January 1991, the US led an air and ground war ending with an Iraqi defeat and retreat from Kuwait in February 1991, with President George Bush declaring a ceasefire. Under the terms, Iraqi President Saddam Hussein was not forced from power but was told to return land and property to Kuwait and recognise its sovereignty. Iraq was also ordered to get rid of all its nuclear, biological and chemical weapons.

This deal — which was unlike what Israel and Hamas have agreed to — ended the fighting between Iraq and Kuwait, but marked the beginning of Hussein’s downfall just over a decade later in 2003.


Truce attempts that failed to lead to peace

Sudan civil war 2023 – ongoing: In April, civil war broke out between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF).

General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, the leader of the SAF, and his former deputy, the RSF’s General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, had once worked side by side in launching a military coup in 2021 after toppling the country’s longtime President Omar al-Bashir. But, both parties wanted to fill the power vacuum and lead the country.

The US and Saudi Arabia have been mediating between them for much of the year, but multiple ceasefire agreements to stop the fighting have failed, and violence has instead escalated across Sudan.

In this case, both parties didn’t “refrain from seeking military advantage during the ceasefire”, as had been agreed by the terms of the agreements, and the war continues on today.

Syrian Civil War, 2011 – ongoing: After Syrian pro-democracy activists led protests against President Bashar al-Assad in 2011, the Syrian regime responded by killing hundreds of demonstrators and imprisoning many more. Syria slid into war.

Since then at least 230,224 civilians have died in the conflict and 140 ceasefire attempts have failed. Proposed internationally mediated ceasefires, with the UN, US and Russia stepping in, and more informal local ceasefire attempts, were only aimed at temporary cessations of hostilities for humanitarian relief to enter or for groups to rearm – limiting any chance of a suspension of violence.

Research by the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO) shows in 2016 there were a total of 43 ceasefires, but with each failed attempt violence escalated. In the years since, ceasefire deals decreased as did fighting. In 2020, just three ceasefires were declared.

Faysal Itani, once a senior fellow for the Atlantic Council and now director at the New Lines Institute for Strategy and Policy, explained in 2018 that the main cause of failed ceasefire attempts is the regime’s outlook on the war, namely, the fact that it does not recognise the legitimacy of any opposition that challenges its political monopoly over Syria.

Six-Day War Ceasefire (1967): Israel, already occupying parts of Palestinian territory as prescribed by the UN in 1948, captured more — Gaza and the West Bank — as well as the Sinai from Egypt and the Golan Heights from Syria, in a war that lasted just six days.

A UN Security Council ceasefire was initially rejected by both Egypt and Syria, but with Israeli forces rapidly expanding forces into their lands, they acquiesced and by the sixth day of conflict all parties accepted a truce.

The ceasefire lasted for six years and by that measure, some believe it was a success. But it eventually fell apart after a peace agreement between Israel and neighbouring Arab states failed to agree upon Israel’s security and an end to the occupation of Palestinian lands.

Will the Israel-Hamas truce lead to lasting peace?

Joshi of the University of Notre Dame said the “narrow focus” of the current truce between Israel and Hamas, limited to “a pause in fighting and prisoner swap”, means it is “destined to fail”.

If policy areas are left vague or untouched in peace agreements, as has been the case in previous rounds of Israel-Palestine talks, like the Oslo Accords and onwards – then there will always be the need for additional rounds of negotiations to enhance that agreement.

“Either that or violence will resume,” Joshi said.

“As the deal between Hamas and Israel is likely not to include further talks and monitoring and verification components, it is not likely to stop violence beyond the proposed four-day period,” he added. “It will not be surprising if the deal does fail outright.”

Truces that have worked were either a result of final rounds of multiple earlier failed ceasefires, or from a ceasefire negotiated as part of a larger peace process. The inclusion of a verification and monitoring provision can also lead to successful peace deals.

“A ceasefire deal will surely go wrong when one or both sides are still determined to defeat the other side militarily at the time of the ceasefire deal,” said Joshi.

“There are plenty of examples of such failed ceasefires from Myanmar, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan, etc,” he added.

Along with Michael J Quinn, also from the University of Notre Dame, Joshi has researched 196 ceasefires and peace deals from 1975 – 2011, and found that “over 85 percent of them mostly fail – meaning a resumption of conflict”.