The Palestinian leadership showed political creativity when it introduced the Arabic term Hudna when speaking about the truce or cease-fire agreement that was being worked out with the Palestinian guerrilla movements. By using a term used more than once by the Prophet Mohammed, the Palestinian Authority succeeded in providing the Islamic movements with an ideological ladder to climb down from.
But while the cessation of anti-Israeli violence is the declared goal of this Hudna, the real goal should be the successful integration of these hard-line groups into a pragmatic political process in which they can participate in the decision-making apparatus with the responsibilities that this entails.
It has been known for some time that groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad were split almost down the middle between pragmatists and hard-liners. With the pragmatists understanding the balance of forces and therefore trying their best to maximize their gains within its possibilities, the radicals are only hoping to obtain recognition and legitimacy by being recognized within the process. In baseball terms the pragmatists are hoping to get on base while the radicals are playing for the grand slam home run using a miniature bat, and being excited just to be in the game. Ironically the defeat of the Baathists in Iraq has reversed the roles of outside and inside. The Damascus-based leadership used to take the more hard-line positions seems to have quickly softened its stance due to external pressure on Syria which seems to affect them. This leaves the only party opposed to the cease-fire some of the more extreme elements inside the Occupied Territories.
The real meaning of this current Hudna must be in the domestication of the Islamic movements by allowing them to participate in the political process. For years, the Islamists have refused to join the PLO or the Palestinian Authority while at the same time keeping their eyes open for some political role without defining what it is. Now they are invited to join a new political body, called by some the Unified Leadership.
Palestinian community pressure, coupled with American, Egyptian and Saudi pressure, has finally forced the Islamists to come up with political answers to supplement their military struggle. Without the current dialogue, the Islamists were able to keep their answers vague about their political goals while saying they are against the Israelis and their occupation of Palestine. During this period the entire spectrum of Islamic opinion was expressed. From the hard-liner who spoke about a violent struggle until all of historic Palestine is liberated (without much discussion of where the Israeli Jewish population would go) to more moderate Islamists who said that their military resistance would continue until the end of the 1967 occupation and that after that their struggle would be political.
The real meaning of this Hudna is therefore the capitulation of both these positions. Egyptian participants worked hard to wake up the hard-liners to the political reality in general and especially after Sept. 11 and the end of the Saddam Baath regime in particular.
For the Islamist moderates, they needed less convincing. They were asked the simple question of why continue in this violent cycle if you can reach roughly the same goals using more political means. If you are for a Palestinian state in the 1967 borders, then the very minimum that you need to do is to give the “road map” and President Bush’s vision a chance. If that vision fails, then you can go back and use military means to accomplish this political goal.
This might seem like a simplistic and highly optimistic understanding of the Hudna agreement. After all, it has a finite period of time and has many conditions and strings attached to it. One is not certain that rogue elements within the Islamic movements will not derail it. Neither can we guarantee that the Israelis will commit to their promise to avoid assassinating political figures. Israel’s expansive interpretation of a “ticking bomb” could render their promise worthless.
What is even more important is the success of the US and its “Quartet” partners to push the road map without hesitation. Peace negotiations (hopefully conducted in secret) should not stop until white smoke can be seen. Then the majorities of Palestinians and Israelis can be formally asked to back an agreed-upon package deal that provides Palestinians with their dream of independence and democracy in a viable contiguous state alongside a safe and secure state of Israel.
Such political success may well turn this short-term Hudna into a long-term peace deal. Much is still needed to get there, but the ideological and psychological importance of this cease-fire goes much further than the terms enshrined in it.
Daoud Kuttab is a Palestinian journalist from Jerusalem. He is the director of the Institute of Modern Media at Al Quds University which owns and runs Al Quds Educational Television. In May 2001, Mr. Kuttab received the International Press Institute’s award as one of fifty press freedom heroes in the last fifty years. He is a regular contributor to Media Monitors Network (MMN).