Jun 26 2003

The real meaning of Hudna

Published by at 12:00 am under Articles,Palestinian politics

The Palestinian leadership showed political creativity when they introduced the Arabic term hudna when speaking about the ceasefire agreement that was being worked out with the Islamic and radical Palestinian guerilla movements. By using a term used more than once by the Prophet Muhammad, 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 hardliners. With the pragmatists understanding the balance of forces and therefore trying their best to maximum their gains within its possibilities, while radicals 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 two inch bat, and being excited just to be in the game.

The real meaning of this current hudna must be in the domestication of the Islamic movements through allowing them to participate in the political process. For years, the Islamists have refused to join the PLO or the Oslo Process while at the same time keeping their eye for some political role without defining what it is. Now they are offered to join a new political body, called by some the Unified Leadership.

Palestinian community pressure, coupled with American, Egyptian and Saudi pressure have 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 hardliner 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 will continue until the end of the 1967 occupation and that after that their struggle would be political.

The real meaning of this hudna therefore is the capitulation of both these positions. Egyptian participants worked hard to wake up the hardliners to the political reality in general and especially after September 11 and the end of the Saddam Baath regime in particular.

For the Islamists moderate, 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 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 ceasefire goes much further than the terms enshrined in it.

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