Does A Ceasefire Fix Anything?

Does A Ceasefire Fix Anything?

Following recent news, the world celebrated that a ceasefire had been broached between the Israel and Hamas forces on the Gaza strip, purportedly bringing an end to the escalating violence. But while Egyptian and American diplomats were patting themselves on the back, reports soon emerged of shots fired at Palestinian women and arson balloons targeting the Israeli people.

Despite the overwhelming silence over the continued use of violence between Palestinian and Israeli citizens, the question remains: what is the true meaning of a ceasefire? Is the term used for show to make politicians look good? Or is a ceasefire politically vital? Can trade-offs and deals of foreign diplomats change the opinions and actions of civilians? 

What is a Ceasefire?

A ceasefire is an agreed truce between two sides who are in a period of conflict with each other somehow. The truce is agreed upon through political trades, discussions, or agreements between the leaders of the two states involved in the crossfire. However, historically, there will be involvement from diplomats who support each side of the conflict, attempting to either stem the violence before it gets out of hand or support their interests within the conflict – the latter is often the leading cause for the involvement of the wealthiest nations in the world.

The best example of support from allied diplomats is the divide of world nations during periods of war. During the Korean war in 1950, China and the Soviet Union supported the North, and the United States supported the South. These main actors also supported ceasefire negotiations. They were often meeting with diplomats on both sides while also taking charge of the conflict of other nations.

In the case we began with, Egypt was the principal negotiator for the conflict between Israel and Palestine, producing the “ceasefire” on the Gaza strip. 

Ceasefires are highly politicised, being argued by diplomats and politicians rather than the citizens of the nations. This results in a deficit between peace talks and the violent action impacting citizens on the ground. The gap between the decisions of politicians and the choices of civilians only increases when there is also segregation between the two states; though a ceasefire may be resolved between two forces, violence may continue between the country’s civilians. Such an instance is where the relevance of a ceasefire for the people comes into play. Suppose fighting continues after an ‘official ceasefire’ is introduced. In that case, it appears that the resolution of politicians was a purely political façade and has not solved any issues between the people of the country. 

Unofficial Ceasefires

It is essential to recognise the difference between ceasefires through major political partners and the unofficial truce of civilians fighting. Historically, unofficial ceasefires are uncommon. However, one famous example perfectly recognises how the will of the people can outweigh the ongoing warfare, aside from the trade-offs and decisions of politicians and diplomats.

The football match in Flanders Fields on Christmas day in 1914 depicts how violence could be stopped for a brief period, only to resume on Boxing Day. Here, the Entente of British soldiers held an unofficial ceasefire with the allied forces of Germany, Austria, and Hungary, pausing all violence. The pause of violence was not official because key diplomats did not broach it, and the war had not ended.

Although the day has reached legendary status, a letter written by Staff Sergeant Clement Barker of the 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards details how the “Christmas Truce” came about:

“A German looked over the trench – no shots. Our men did the same, and then a few of our men went out and brought the dead in and buried them. The next thing, a football [was] kicked out of our trenches, and Germans and English played football.”

There is an important conclusion to draw from this historical event. Typically, due to the gap in ceasefires declared and the end of violence, the lack of success in official truces may be due to the lack of civilian decision. Official ceasefires negotiated to end violence over an issue impacting citizens are far less successful at actually bringing an end to warfare than truce’s brokered by those fighting.

Could it be argued that ceasefires are only a political ploy used by politicians to make themselves look better? 

The Appearance of a Truce

One of the key political players involved in the ceasefire between Palestine and Israel was Joe Biden. Off the back of Trump’s Presidency, Biden is looking to reclaim America’s reputation within the foreign community as a “grown-up” among international politics. Alongside the Egyptian negotiation, President Biden played a vital role in the rhetoric and discussion between the forces on the Gaza strip. Biden was also one of the first politicians involved who hailed the truce between Israel and Palestine a success. 

Biden’s involvement had two clear motivations: 

Firstly, there is the initial involvement the United States had historically in the creation of the state of Israel following World War I. Consequently, America is a nation interested in the success of the Israel and Palestine agreement, viewing potential violence as a failure. 

Secondly and most importantly, the success of an official ceasefire would improve America’s reputation overseas in foreign affairs. If Biden is involved in such a necessary political truce, the world would see him as a significant force on the political scene. Meanwhile, his reputation within the States would undoubtedly improve, as the American people view successful involvement abroad as a sign of their strength as a world power. 

In such a case, a ceasefire between two nations can be beneficial for the image of an external party, with interest in their reputation on foreign policy. However, this does not mean that the violence in both countries has faded. Hours after the ceasefire began, Israeli police attacked Palestinians at Al Aqsa mosque.

The only benefit seen from the supposed truce on the Gaza strip is the improved reputation of the politicians, and there is no end of violence between the two countries. Ceasefires seem to exist for the benefit of the politicians rather than the benefit of the people. 

So, can Ceasefires ever achieve peace?

Although the examples shown have exemplified how ceasefires broached by leaders do not typically change the opinion of those committing violence for a cause, there have been examples where civilians respect ceasefires over time. 

Northern Ireland is a nation steeped in a history of sectarian, political violence. However, following the Good Friday Agreement on 10 April 1998, most of the Troubles’ violence was eventually stopped. Nevertheless, there has not been an entire period of peace, with the most recent violence in the country taking place on Easter weekend 2021.

The levels of violence seen during the Troubles dropped drastically following the agreement. In addition, a younger generation is reaching voting age, growing up in an Ireland where the Troubles are becoming a distant memory. The attitude of the Northern Irish youth is visible in new voting trends in elections. In the 2019 general election, support for the Alliance Party grew by 8.8%, becoming the third-largest party. The values of the Alliance Party focus on inclusion and a “shared future.” Following the parliamentary history of Northern Ireland, the change in voting pattern emphasises the turning-point in attitudes of the people of Northern Ireland, no longer assuming the same voting habits on a political divide. 

So, though Northern Ireland has still had violence committed following a ceasefire, the change in politics in the country raises an important point. It may have needed time for new generations to grow up within a ‘ceasefire’ nation that did not see as much violence as before the truce was agreed. There has been a response to the official ceasefire, which generations now appear to respect far more. It may take time for political ceasefires to impact the nation. It is impossible to change the perspectives of civilians and close political divides overnight. As in the case of Northern Ireland, it seems a new generation must live through the lens of the ceasefire for the impact to be notable. 

To a certain extent, ceasefires are only a “political band-aid” protecting the reputation of politicians rather than producing instant peace. In many cases of modern warfare, world leaders must fix the actual issue which divides two states at the level of the people, rather than resolving trade-offs and agreements between powerful politicians. The gap between world leaders and citizens is made clear through the continued violence between Israel and Palestine: even though politicians have claimed a ceasefire, civilians still fight over what they view is rightfully theirs. 

The case study of Northern Ireland has demonstrated that official ceasefires can change civilian perspectives over time. However, in every example of modern civilian warfare, they tend not to create positive action in a way one would infer from the name “ceasefire.” Politicians can use ceasefires as ‘signposts’ of positive foreign involvement. However, with little discourse with those taking part in the violence, ceasefires become more about the image of the political players and less about the people or the warfare itself. 

Written by Giselle Inglis.

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