A peace of the exhausted

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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.

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