Here is a preliminary guide for the perplexed observer of recent days' "hudna" events in Israel/Palestine. So preliminary that it offers more questions than answers.
First, the seemingly answerable questions:
Who won? At this very early juncture it looks like just about everybody gains. The United States exercised effective pressure to produce a concrete achievement within the framework of its < ahref="../docs/roadmap3.html">roadmap. Egypt scored points with the US and the Arab world by mediating among Palestinians. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon can declare victory and argue that his tough military policies brought Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) to the fore and Hamas to its knees. But Hamas now has a senior political role to play above and beyond the Palestinian Authority, and its popularity has soared. The Palestinian Authority/Palestine Liberation Organization is delivering on a ceasefire and improved conditions. Abbas and Yasir Arafat can both claim the victory. The Israeli and Palestinian peoples may now enjoy a respite from the violence.
How many agreements are there? Three. An agreement by Hamas and Islamic Jihad regarding conditions for negotiating a ceasefire (hudna) with Israel, a similar but separate agreement by Fateh, and the Palestinian-Israeli ceasefire itself. The first two were brokered by Egypt, the third by the US. Of critical importance is the fact that the contents of the agreements, i.e., the quid pro quos that each demands of Israel, are not identical (see below).
Are we better off today compared, say, to three years ago, when the peace process was ostensibly flourishing and before the violence began? Yes, in the sense that the Palestinian leadership is being cleaned up and the US and Israel are enforcing far tougher rules regarding terrorism. No, in the sense that the Palestinian leadership is far weaker and the two sides are farther apart both on issues of substance and in terms of mutual trust.
Do Israel and the PLO see eye to eye on the "philosophy" of this ceasefire? No. The Palestinians want to return to the status quo ante pre-intifada: use of persuasion rather than force against Hamas in order to avoid civil war (which is why their internal agreements had to precede the ceasefire with Israel), joint patrols with Israel, release of all prisoners, and the same agenda for peace negotiations, including the right of return. Israel--and here Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon speaks for most Israelis (and Americans)--wants Hamas to be dismantled, not co-opted, views security cooperation more in terms of separation than integration, and will adopt tougher positions on some final status issues, if and when we get to them.
Now, the questions that have no immediate answers:
Who's in charge on the Palestinian side: Hamas, now the most popular organization? Arafat (and the jailed Mustafa Barghouti), who claim credit for negotiating the intra-Palestinian hudna? Abu Mazen and his security chief, Mohammad Dahlan, who negotiated the ceasefire with Israel?
Can the Islamist organizations that reject Israel's existence, and the PLO/PA, coexist under a joint political agreement and a hudna and manage their affairs with Israel? Or must the PLO/PA subdue Hamas first? Can Dahlan deal effectively with the inevitable infractions by Hamas and Fateh dissidents? Can and will he engage in the "dismantlement of terrorist capabilities and infrastructure" as the roadmap requires him to do? Are Hamas' far-reaching demands on Israel (within the intra-Palestinian agreement), e.g., to release all prisoners and lift the siege of Arafat's compound, bound to generate renewed fighting after three months, given that Israel has (understandably concerning the prisoners) rejected them? If so, why should Israel wait and allow the militants to rearm and reorganize?
Will Sharon, the Israeli right and some in the security establishment indeed preempt? Or will they take measured risks and tolerate initial Palestinian infractions, in the interests of allowing Dahlan to operate and strengthen his position? Up to what point can they accept that an imperfect peace is better than a fruitless Palestinian civil war? And will they take "all necessary steps to help normalize Palestinian life" as the roadmap demands?
What will Sharon do if the agreement collapses? More of the same, or reoccupy Gaza and seek to physically eliminate the Hamas leadership? How will this affect the already shaky status of Abu Mazen, the first Palestinian leader to unequivocally condemn terrorism and Palestinian violence? Will the US restrain Sharon, or will he revert to form and not know when to stop?
Finally, how will the US, which pulled this off, balance the clearly defined need to eliminate Hamas and the other militant terrorist organizations with the desire to use the ceasefire as a foundation for a renewed peace process? How far into the maelstrom of Israeli-Palestinian relations is President Bush prepared to be drawn? How will the White House react when the going gets rough?
And where is the senior presidential emissary that both sides need to "babysit" them in between visits from Secretary of State Powell and National Security Adviser Rice?
Yossi Alpher is coeditor of bitterlemons. He is a former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies and former senior adviser to PM Ehud Barak.
The noises coming from the Israeli side denigrating the Fatah and Hamas ceasefire declarations made this week as part of the official Palestinian commitment "to end armed activity and all acts of violence against Israelis anywhere" must be taken seriously by the United States. All Israeli politicians reacted to this Palestinian ceasefire not only by dismissing it, but more importantly by refusing to reciprocate with "an immediate end to violence against Palestinians everywhere," which is what the roadmap obliges Israel to do.
Israel is having conceptual difficulties with reciprocating the Palestinian ceasefire because of its propaganda and straight-out lies that characterize Palestinian violence as "terrorist" and its own violence as self-defense and "fighting terrorism." To reciprocate would require Israel to undermine its own propaganda and admit that its military attacks are at times unnecessary and provocative. Experience has taught us, however, that for this process to work, both sides must contribute to the new environment by stopping all attacks. Period.
The prospect of an end to violence by both sides makes this right-wing Israeli government very nervous because it will expose Israel to its obligations vis-à-vis the roadmap, obligations that this government can’t swallow and that threaten its coalition. These obligations include the immediate dismantlement of all new settlements, beginning with the so-called "outposts" that have been established over the last two and a half years. The government faces the prospect of having to halt settlement expansion, not only in those settlements that Israel considers "illegal" (i.e. those not established by the government) but in all of the settlements, which are all considered illegal under international law.
That is why we are at a very critical crossroads. While this ceasefire allows the Palestinian Authority to successfully fulfill an important obligation of the roadmap--one that is a prerequisite for moving forward--lack of Israeli reciprocity, i.e. a continuation of Israeli violence against Palestinians will jeopardize this very significant step. The American administration’s welcome of the ceasefire initiative obliges Washington to convince Israel to reciprocate in kind.
Another significant aspect of this ceasefire is that it comes in tandem with an Israeli-Palestinian security agreement that will begin reversing Israel’s reoccupation of areas under Palestinian Authority control. But if the recent withdrawal from areas of the Gaza Strip (and soon Bethlehem) is not accompanied by an end to the violence in the rest of the occupied territories, the Gaza-Bethlehem arrangements will be in danger, which is exactly what happened in three previous attempts at gradual troop withdrawal.
It must also be clear to the American administration, which is demonstrating increasing attention and sensitivity to the conflict, that security arrangements alone or the isolation of security components from documents like the roadmap (which is unfortunately what marked the demise of the earlier Mitchell report) can also lead to failure. That is why the implementation of security agreements, such as an end to violence by both sides and withdrawal of Israel’s military presence in Palestinian-controlled areas and the assumption of Palestinian security responsibilities there, must be accompanied by other non-security-related components of the roadmap, such as a serious timetable for removing settlement outposts and preventing the settlers from erecting new ones and then moving on to monitoring a halt in settlement expansion. Palestinians will measure the seriousness of the US vis-à-vis the roadmap through its pressure on Israel to stop building the apartheid/separation wall, for example, which will only consolidate the settlements, separate Palestinians from one another, and deny Palestinian farmers of their agricultural land.
Economic components of the first phase of the roadmap are also to be dealt with in parallel with security components--these include allowing workers to move freely, first and most visibly inside the West Bank and Gaza Strip and permitting the Palestinian Authority to rebuild what the Israeli occupation has destroyed. The secret to the strength of the roadmap is its integral nature, which enabled it to gain the confidence of world consensus. If the implementation of the roadmap is not as comprehensive and integral as its text, then we will again fail in achieving our objectives of ending violence, undoing the occupation and bringing peace.
Ghassan Khatib is coeditor of bitterlemons. He is also minister of labor in the Palestinian Authority cabinet and has served for many years as a political analyst and media contact.
In addition to everything else, the two peoples, Israelis and Palestinians, caught up in their extended blood feud, also need to have healthy memories and above average semantic capabilities. To the repertoire of solutions that previously included the Oslo agreements, the Clinton principles, the Mitchell plan, the Tenet outline, the Bush speech and the roadmap, has now been added the "hudna".
This Islamic term has quickly entered Israeli parlance, though not without a semantic controversy. Is a hudna merely a "ceasefire", as many Palestinians argue, or does it also embody the added value of "acquiescence" that many Israelis seek to attribute to the term. These nuances cannot be underestimated in cultures that attach almost magical power to words.
Yet the issue of the meaning of "hudna" is not the only problem. Perhaps for the first time, an agreement with the Palestinians is not splitting Israeli society between opponents and supporters in accordance with the traditional contours of right and left. Nearly every solution proposed in the past enjoyed instinctive support on the left and automatic rejection on the right. Not this time. It is still easy to find energetic pockets of opposition on the extreme right that consider the hudna a certain recipe for disaster, and enthusiastic support among those on the left that see it as a first step toward a possible settlement. But in between there is a very large contingent that swings between hope and despair, that is prepared to give any step a chance, but that is riddled with doubts regarding the possibility of success.
Not many oppose the hudna; after two years of hard bloodshed it is difficult to find anyone who would not celebrate even a few days of peace and quiet, a break in the mutual killing, and the economic potential embodied in a ceasefire for hundreds of thousands of unemployed and teetering businesses. But the lack of trust, based on past experience, is deeper than ever. Even those who believe in the honest intentions of factions within the Palestinian leadership are skeptical concerning their capacity to enforce the hudna in the field. For many, that skepticism is accompanied by misgivings concerning the good intentions of the Israeli leadership and its ability to withstand pressures from extremist elements within the right wing government. Even the dismantling of illegal outposts has become a farce.
Thus only the Israeli stock market has reacted to the emergence of this hudna with outright optimism, translated into an impressive rise in the trading index. Everyone else is reacting with cautious pessimism. As refugees of the euphoria that enveloped the Oslo agreements and victims of the past three years of attrition, Israelis refuse to abandon themselves to yet another hope that is liable to prove unfounded. This attitude has swept many sectors of the Israeli public, regardless of the question "who is to blame" and "who started it." The "peace of the brave" has become the ceasefire of the exhausted, like a break between rounds in a wrestling match.
This is not necessarily bad news. The same sense of fatigue, or worse, presumably exists among the Palestinian public. Only extremists condemn this exhaustion as an expression of embarrassing weakness. Sometimes a collective, exactly like an individual, requires a sign of fatigue in order to know when to stop. In society, as in our personal lives, fatigue is a vital regulatory mechanism that signals the limits of force and endurance. Only senseless individuals, or suicidal societies, do not hear this internal signal.
Thus the hudna is good and right; perhaps its very modest nature as an intermediate step offers hope. An intermission from the daily horrors is exactly what the two societies need if they are to recall how it feels to live a more normal life, and aspire once again to anchor this normalcy in a real future agreement. When that time comes, Israelis will be more sober and realistic as they encounter it.
In retrospect, one of the "marketing" mistakes of the Oslo agreements within Israeli society was its presentation as a process of reconciliation instead of as a political agreement. "Reconciliation" generates expectations that cannot reach fruition at this stage; a political agreement is a more modest aspiration, wherein the hudna can be the first phase.
Research done in both societies supports this approach. Despite the suffering of both in the course of the past three years, a large number of Israelis and Palestinians express a relatively high degree of trust in the capacity to reach a political agreement, while only a small number in both societies believes in "reconciliation now." Hence the Israeli leadership must make every effort to contribute to the success of the hudna. It owes this to the people.
Lily Galili is a senior writer at Ha'aretz newspaper.
bitterlemons: Can you explain why the ceasefire or hudna declared this week by the Palestinian factions is important?
Ghneim: I think that many changes have happened in the region in this period and all of the Palestinian factions have focused on these changes. We want to make a serious decision to prevent disaster in the area. There is a need to give an opportunity to the new Palestinian government and to take the Palestinian people into a new stage.
bitterlemons: When you say disaster, what are you referring to? Were their specific threats made?
Ghneim: Israel has destroyed our institutions, our cities and towns, and continues with its aggression against our people. I think that the resistance from the Palestinian people has succeeded in the face of this difficult aggression, but we now have many problems. We tried to think about our people and the difficulties they are facing on the ground. We think that the hudna will offer an opportunity for our people to stay powerful and continue the Palestinian struggle in a different way, [in order] to achieve Palestinian rights.
bitterlemons: Is your faction Fateh unified in the hudna?
Ghneim: All of the Palestinian factions accepted the concept of the hudna, but there were some differences about how to talk about it, how to have one unified text talking about the hudna.
bitterlemons: Are you worried that the hudna might not work?
Ghneim: I am worried about the Israeli side. I have many suspicions that the Israeli side will [not] react positively. The comments of the Israeli side are not encouraging us and I think that the responsibility now lies with the international community to put pressure on the Israeli side and convince them or force them to accept the hudna and respond in a positive way, which means to accept the prerequisites of the hudna.
bitterlemons: So you have no assurances really that Israel will reciprocate?
Ghneim: We didn’t get any guarantees, but the US did make a statement saying that the hudna is "a step in the right direction." That is important at this stage, but we are still waiting for more serious steps pressuring the Israeli side. They [the US] asked us to give an opportunity to the political track. The Palestinian leadership, the Palestinian cabinet and the Palestinian people have answered positively all the requests made of them. Now the pressure on the Israeli side has to begin.
bitterlemons: US President George W. Bush has been very clear that, while he supports a hudna, in the end the Palestinian Authority must disarm the different factions.
Ghneim: During the negotiations in Aqaba, President Bush mentioned this and [Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas] Abu Mazen was clear in this meeting, telling him that he did not want confrontations among the Palestinian people and didn’t need confrontation among the Palestinian people. The hudna is a positive way to solve our problems with each other and give the political track a chance.
President Bush accepted the idea and asked the prime minister to move towards the hudna and implement a peace. Now the Palestinian people have succeeded and it is time for the international community to implement its part.
bitterlemons: Might the Fatah hudna extend longer than six months, if things are moving forward?
Ghneim: If the Israeli side and the international community respond positively to the hudna and we see changes on the ground, and the Israeli side withdraws from all Palestinian cities and towns and we return to the political track, then we will continue in the hudna. The hudna is a set period at this stage, but it will be more sustainable if we succeed in moving towards our aims.
bitterlemons: Do you think that the Palestinian people believe that the hudna will improve their lives?
Ghneim: It depends. I think that the Palestinian people need a change. We want to exit this situation, but under fair circumstances. We want to see our people free and moving towards independence; we want to see the internal and external siege lifted from Palestinian territory; we want to see the siege lifted from the Palestinian leadership; we want to see our prisoners out of Israeli jails, we want to see the end to the Israeli assassination policy and move towards a new future. If people see something changing on the ground, their confidence in the hudna will increase and the people will be more committed to it. But if the Israelis continue their aggression and their policies against our people, rejecting implementation of their part of this hudna, then it cannot continue.
Ahmad Ghneim is member of the Fatah Higher Committee and assistant to imprisoned West Bank Fateh Secretary General Marwan Barghouti.
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