The hudna no one wants

Israeli soldiers ready to stop a demonstration against Israel’s West Bank Barrier in the village of Bal’in, November 11, 2005. (Photo: MAANnews/Mushir Abdelrahman)

The second hudna (truce) between the Palestinians and their occupiers underlines the staggering and ridiculous state of the so-called “peace process”. Every time an incident occurs, the chorus from all directions can be heard that it “may endanger the peace process.”

Long after the peace process has ceased to exist, concern about its health continues. Whenever the Palestinians appealed to the Security Council, or the body invented to sideline it, the Quartet, the reply of the powerful parties who block any action is always the same. A statement, a complaint, a mere disagreement coming from the Arab or Palestinian side, even a plea to “put negotiations back on track” (another cliche) is always met with a rebuke that the speaker is once again “threatening the peace process”.

Nothing much has changed recently, except that the “hudna” has taken the place of the “peace process” in this sterile game. Neither the hudna — the supposed truce between Israelis and Palestinians — nor the peace process were ever real, concrete steps on a path to ending Israeli aggression and reversing the occupation of 1967. But believing in them and dealing with them as if they were real has served an important political purpose for those who certainly know better.

Since the chairman of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, managed to convince all Palestinian resistance factions to observe a truce “so that the peace process could be revived,” hardly a week passed without violence breaking out between the Palestinians and the Israeli occupiers. Why? History teaches us that a successful truce is an agreement between two fighting parties to cease fire at the moment when they both come to the conclusion that war has prepared the ground for talking. They continue to hold fire as long as their talks proceed. If the talks culminate in an agreement, the ceasefire would be transformed into a permanent peace; alternatively, if the talks fail, they may resort to fighting again.

Such ceasefires are never unilateral and never imposed for their own sake. When they are unilateral, that is usually called surrender. How does this compare with the current Palestinian-Israeli “hudna”?

First, this hudna was not the result of an agreement between the two conflicting parties. Neither of the fighting parties agreed to the hudna. On the Palestinian side, it was the Palestinian Authority chairman who insisted on the hudna, and he was never actually a party to the armed conflict. He was always opposed to any form of resistance to the occupation, preferring to keep quiet in the hope that the US, the EU, the UN, the smooth diplomats of Scandinavia or any other charitable organisation would sympathise with the Palestinian tragedy and persuade the Israelis to be kinder. According to Cairo-based sources close to Abbas, he wanted the hudna as a gesture to the promoters of the peace process, proving that he is a “man of peace” at any cost. On this basis he was hailed internationally as the partner who would unblock the road to peace which Yasser Arafat had kept tightly shut.

The Palestinian “militants”, the resistance groups, mainly Hamas, Jihad and others, agreed to the hudna because they had no choice. They did not want to be blamed for derailing peace once more. They did not want to justify the Israeli campaign of assassination of their leaders and cadres, with unanimous approval regionally and internationally. They did not want to confront a broad international front insisting on the hudna and putting enormous pressure in its favour. But they also knew that Israel would not observe the hudna and that it was a matter of time until the hudna would fail and they would be blamed, no matter what. To be fair, much of the scepticism was due to their belief that the hudna was only meant to make the task of the occupier and its expansionist plans easier.

Ha’aretz columnist Danny Rubinstein observed correctly that, from the Palestinian perspective, Israel’s demands are: “You Palestinians will sit quietly, and we Israelis will build settlements and outposts, remove Arabs from Jerusalem and bring Jews instead of them. That’s how it has been all these years, even during the Oslo period, and that’s how it will continue.”

Just as astutely, Rubinstein concludes that because of this, “the lull that continues will be very temporary and fragile. A kind of time-out during an Intifada whose end is not in sight.”

The Israelis, the other party to the armed conflict, never recognised the hudna or promised to be party to it. Dan Halutz the Israeli army chief of staff confirmed on November 8 that Israel’s ongoing campaign of “targeted killings” would continue unabated. They maintain that the Palestinian resistance factions are terrorists, not counterparts in a deal, and that they should be abolished. Ceasing their fire would be seen as a first step towards their elimination, not to engaging them in negotiations. Under that pretext, Israel continued its incursions in Palestinian-controlled areas to kill, arrest and besiege. They did that openly as part of their declared policy of fighting terror and defending their citizens. Not only that, but the Israelis repeatedly claim that they do that to help, or on behalf of, the Palestinian Authority which has acquiesced to the concept that resistance is terror, and committed itself to ending it, though it has so far failed.

It would be utterly wrong to believe that any side in this conflict is truly convinced that the fighting phase is over and that it is time for diplomacy. Of course, neither party wants to maintain violence for its own sake. Israel would definitely stop fighting if the Palestinians agree to allow Israel to continue its colonisation plans without disruption. The Palestinians would certainly stop any form of resistance if the occupation ended and United Nations resolutions upholding their rights in a just peace were finally implemented.

Is any of that possible? The answer is, of course, no. Israel openly declares that it is not ready for a final settlement, and for that reason it is only normal not to agree to negotiate a settlement it is not yet ready for.

The Palestinians cannot be expected to drop all their cards while there is no hope of anything at all to meet even their minimal demands. All they are asked to do is keep quiet and wait, and not to open their mouths, let alone defend themselves while what is left of their rights is crushed before their eyes. By any logic, this situation is neither tenable nor conducive to ending violence. Unfortunately, it is the contrary.

Once more, it is absolutely necessary to emphasise that the hudna may serve as a fig leaf to cover various failures and lack of political will by those who claim to be most eager and determined to see the peace process work, but in the meantime, it blinds us from seeing the cancer grow beyond cure.

EI contributor Hasan Abu Nimah is the former permanent representative of Jordan at the United Nations.