Should Israel Agree to a Ceasefire?

“We in Europe want a ceasefire as quickly as possible, and…everyone understands that time is running against peace. The guns must fall silent.” So said French President Nicholas Sarkozy after meeting with the President of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas. Later, a delegation from the European Union met with Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni to ask Israel to cease operations in Gaza immediately. Karel Schwarzenberg, the foreign minister of the Czech Republic, which currently has leadership of the EU, declared that Israel should not wait for victory: “We are not sharing the view that the cease-fire is only possible if all possible aims of the Israeli action are achieved.”

Israel’s chief aim is to stop the rocket attacks into southern Israel from Gaza and prevent them from recurring. Islamic jihadists have fired 5000 rockets into Israel in the last three years, making no effort whatsoever to distinguish between civilian and military targets. Israeli civilians in southern Israel have grown accustomed to the daily possibility of death from the sky. Sarkozy and the EU expect the Israelis to stop short of achieving their simple goal of ending this threat because they are placing their hope on a negotiated settlement between Hamas and Israel — one that they would perhaps broker.

But what state has ever successfully reached a negotiated settlement with an jihadist enemy who avows a religious obligation to destroy it? And why is Israel constantly expected to be the first? Sarkozy, Schwarzenberg, and all those who are calling for an immediate ceasefire and negotiations seem to have forgotten (if they ever knew in the first place) what Hamas is, what its goals are, and who forms its leadership.

Many analysts continue to view Hamas (which name is an Arabic acronym for the “Islamic Resistance Movement”) as a nationalist group that will ultimately be pacified once a Palestinian state is set up. And to be sure, the Hamas Charter of August 1988 addresses nationalism, but not quite in those terms. It declares: “nothing is loftier or deeper in nationalism than waging Jihad against the enemy and confronting him when he sets foot on the land of the Muslims.” When will this Jihad end? The Hamas Charter quotes Hasan al-Banna, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood: “Israel will rise and will remain erect until Islam eliminates it as it had eliminated its predecessors.”

In saying that “Islam” will eliminate Israel, Hamas, which identifies itself in the Charter as the Muslim Brotherhood’s Palestine chapter, echoes another Muslim Brotherhood document — one in which the organization vows to work in America toward “eliminating and destroying the Western civilization from within and ‘sabotaging’ its miserable house by their hands and the hands of the believers so that it is eliminated and God’s religion” — that is, Islam — “is made victorious over all other religions.” That is a political statement, not solely a religious one: it is a declaration of intent to bring Islamic law, Sharia, to America, and enforce here its codified discrimination against women and non-Muslims, and its denial of the freedom of speech and the freedom of conscience.

Yet at the same time, it is a religious statement, like those in the Hamas Charter. The fact that those who are waging jihad warfare against Israel and the United States believe that they are carrying out divine commands ensures that neither jihad will end with changes in economic conditions, or with a negotiated settlement. While Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal has indicated a willingness to enter into a long-term truce with Israel, he also told Iranian supremo Ali Khamenei in May 2008 that “the Palestinian nation will continue its resistance despite all pressures and will not under any circumstances stop its jihad.”

Was Meshaal, then, simply lying when he declared his openness to a truce? Not at all — but his call must be understood in light of his own frame of reference, not a Western one to which he does not subscribe. In the West, nations enter into truces with one another because they are weary of war and value peace. No such concept of truce exists in the Islamic law that Hamas and Meshaal accept as their supreme guide. In traditional and authoritative Islamic law, a Muslim force may agree to a truce with a non-Muslim enemy only if the Muslims reasonably expect that their opponents are prepared to convert to Islam, or if the Muslims are weak and need time to gather their strength to fight again more effectively. It is the latter concept to which Hamas has been having recourse in its short-term truces with Israel: it uses the cessation of hostilities as an opportunity to get back on its feet, and then the rockets start once again raining down upon Israel.

The EU and the U.N., and all those calling upon Israel to enter into another truce, should take careful note of that fact. Hamas has never hidden its intention to destroy Israel. Israel should not be impeded in its necessary struggle to destroy Hamas.