As public outrage over the humanitarian impact of Israel’s military operations in Gaza grows, calls for a cease-fire in the U.S. and globally are mounting. Analysts rightly point to the rising costs for U.S. credibility as it faces growing isolation in the international community for its steadfast support of Israel. But for those concerned with the bottom-line humanitarian outcomes in the conflict, is a cease-fire ultimately the best way forward?
The reality is that cease-fires often fail and for the most part have limited and at times even adverse impacts. There are, however, certain circumstances when cease-fires can make a difference. These lessons from the past failures and successes of cease-fires, and not political outrage, should inform the U.S. response to the horrific humanitarian suffering in Gaza.
Research on the use of cease-fires in conflicts reveals relatively disappointing results that have largely been ignored in the current clamor for a cease-fire as the primary response to suffering in Gaza. In fact, cease-fires are very common in violent conflicts. Between 1989 and 2020, more than 2,000 were declared globally. However, their impacts are often limited. Scholars Corinne Bara, Govinda Clayton and Siri Rustad found that about one in three civil conflicts observe at least one cease-fire each year, but they “rarely end violence, and, if temporary, can lead to future escalation.”