The Draw

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After “Intifada” (shaking off) and “Shahid” (martyr), another Arabic term has entered the world’s vocabulary: “Hudna” (truce).

In Islamic tradition, the word evokes an historical event. The first Islamic truce was declared in the year 628 AD at Hodaibiya, in the course of Muhammad’s war against the pagan chiefs of Mecca. According to the version now doing the rounds in Israel, Muhammad broke the truce and conquered Mecca. Ergo: Don’t believe the Arabs, don’t believe in the Hudna.

In Arab history books, the same event is presented quite differently. The Hudna allowed the adherents of the new faith to enter Mecca on a pilgrimage to the holy rock. The pilgrims used the opportunity to make converts. When most citizens had accepted Islam, Muhammad entered the city almost without bloodshed and was received with open arms. Ergo: already in their earliest history, Muslims realized that persuasion is better than force.

Therein lies the answer to the questions that are being asked now: Will the Hudna last? Will it continue after the initial three-month period? Will Arafat and Abu-Mazen succeed in bringing Hamas along with them?

The answers depend completely on the mood of the Palestinian population. If it wants the Hudna, the Hudna will last. If it detests the Hudna, it will collapse. Hamas does not want to lose public sympathy by breaking a popular Hudna. On the contrary, it wants to play a major role in the future Palestinian state. But if the population comes to the conclusion that the Hudna has borne no fruit, Hamas will be the first to break it.

On what will this depend? If the Hudna delivers a major political achievement to the nation and a marked improvement in the quality of life to individuals, it will be popular and take root.

That is logical, and that corresponds with my own personal experience. I have already mentioned in these columns that in my early youth I was a member of a liberation and/or terrorist organization (the definition depends on your point of view). At that time, I learned that such an organization needs public support and cannot operate without it. It needs money, means of propaganda, hiding places, new members. For an organization like Hamas, that has also political and social ambitions, popularity is doubly important. As long as the Hudna is popular, Hamas will abide by it.

This is primarily a test for Abu-Mazen. What can he do to make the Hudna popular? He must secure the wide-scale release of Palestinian prisoners; the amelioration of the horrible living conditions; the withdrawal of the Israeli army from the towns and villages; the removal of the checkpoints that make Palestinian life miserable; the restoration of freedom of access to the urban centers, the work places, hospitals and universities; an ending of targeted assassinations, deportations, demolition of homes and uprooting of groves; the freeze on building activities in the settlements and an end to the construction of the “fence” that is biting off large chunks of land from the West Bank.

If there is no progress in all these matters, the Hudna will collapse. Should this happen, the Israeli military and political establishment will shed no tears. There the Hudna was received with much gnashing of teeth, as if it were imposed by some hostile force. As a matter of fact, it came about by sheer American pressure. The Israeli media, all of whom have long ago become propaganda instruments of the “security establishment”, received the Hudna in unison, as if by order, with comments like “It has no chance. It will not last” é a prophecy that may well prove to be self-realizing.

The army command opposed the cease-fire. As always, the officers explained that victory was just around the corner, that all it needed was one last decisive blow. Exactly this, in the very same words, was said by the French generals who opposed ending the war in Algeria, and by the American generals when Nixon finally gave up in Vietnam. This was said by the Russian generals in Afghanistan, and now they are saying it again in Chechnya. They are always just about to win. They always need to deliver just one more blow. And it’s always the corrupt politicians who stick a knife in their backs and bring about defeat.

The truth is that the army commanders have failed dismally. They have had many small successes, but they have failed to achieve their main aim: to break the will of the Palestinian people. For every “local leader” who was “targeted” and “liquidated”, two new ones arose. The “terrorist infrastructure” was not destroyed, because there is no way to destroy it. It is not composed of arms workshops and leaders, but of popular support and the number of youngsters ready to risk and abandon their lives.

After 1000 days, in spite of the killing and the destruction, the Palestinian spirit of resistance and their fighting capacity were not broken. The Palestinian people has not given up the demands expressed at Camp David and Taba. At the beginning of this Intifada, some individuals volunteered for suicide missions; at its end, hundreds stood in line.

The Palestinians did not win, either. They have proved that they can not be brought to their knees. They have prevented the Palestinian cause from being struck from the world agenda. The Israeli economy has been hit hard. The Intifada has cast its shadow over daily life in Israel. Many of the acts that are considered criminal by Israelis look to the Palestinians like glorious acts of heroism. The destruction of Israeli tanks, the elimination of a major checkpoint by one solitary sniper, the attack by Palestinian commandos who crawled under the “separation wall” é acts like these have filled the Palestinians with pride. And the very fact that after 1000 days the Palestinian David remains standing and facing the mighty Israeli Goliath is by itself an achievement that will be proudly passed down to the coming generations of Palestinians.

But the Palestinians have not succeeded in imposing their will on Israel, just as Israel has not succeeded in imposing its will on the Palestinians. Both the Israelis and the Palestinians are exhausted. This Intifada has ended, for the time being, in a draw.

Mosh Ya’alon, a chief-of-staff with an unquenchable thirst for talking, has proclaimed victory. But on the same day, in a respected Israeli public opinion poll, 73% of those polled expressed the opinion that Israel has not won, and 33% even saw the Palestinians as the victors. The largest circulation newspaper in the country headlined a story about the chief-of-staff with the ironic words: “For your information, We Have Won!” The majority does not believe that the Hudna will hold. But in the meantime, every day that passes without human sacrifice on either side is a pure gain for all of us.

What now? Real negotiations? Negotiations that are nothing other than make-believe? Efforts by both sides to court the Americans? American pressure on both parties to come up with some real actions? Ask Condoleezza.

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