The initiative of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to conclude a cease-fire between the various Palestinian factions and Israel is not yet complete. Representatives of the factions have been in Cairo since Thursday and are still discussing the terms of the hudna, its duration and the chance of building a united Palestinian leadership.
The Egyptian initiative is the result of the opinion that the Arab states' interest in the conflict has simmered, but mostly, that there is no chance the American administration will become actively involved, diplomatically, in the near future in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict because of the approaching presidential elections. As such, "a cease-fire may create a new image of the Palestinians as seekers of peace and enable them to join their ranks in anticipation for the next stage," according to Omar Suleiman, head of Egyptian intelligence.
The Egyptian interpretation is not acceptable to all the Palestinian factions, but they all agree on one issue: the fundamental principle of the cease-fire is that it will equally commit Israel to it, unlike the previous hudna, declared last June, which failed. The Palestinians are also demanding that the construction of the security fence stop, that construction in the settlements stop, that prisoners be released, and that Palestinian Chairman Yasser Arafat be permitted to move freely. In order to gain such a deal, Suleiman is expected in Washington tomorrow to present the conditions of the hudna and ask the administration that, as a "minimal condition," it pressure Israel to agree to the cease-fire.
Israel's response to the possibility of achieving a cease-fire is cool. At most one can expect that the military activities of the Israel Defense Forces in the territories will diminish, according to Deputy Defense Minister Ze'ev Boim. For its part, the IDF is skeptical that there is a chance for a complete cease-fire on the part of the Palestinians. Intelligence sources present data on serious threats to carry out attacks and are reporting that the morale of those wishing to carry out the attacks is high. Israel's stance relies on the experience of the past and the statements made in Cairo that the hudna will not prevent the continued targeting of Israelis outside the Green Line.
It is worth remembering that the hudna is not a replacement to the diplomatic process and its signing should not be treated as a historical turning point. It is a temporary cease-fire that may allow the two sides an opportunity to revive the diplomatic process, free of the threat of terrorism. This time out, if achieved, is not an opportunity to examine who won, who lost, or who blinked first. Too many Israelis and Palestinians were killed in the past 38 months for either side to pride itself of victory.
Israel, which will test the hudna by the results on the ground, is not entitled to shrug away the Egyptian effort to achieve a cease-fire, and predetermine its failure. Not only the Palestinians, but also Israel, is in need of a rehabilitation of its image, at least, and a mutual cease-fire is one way of achieving this. Moreover, if the hudna leads to diplomatic achievement, then Israel will gain no less than the Palestinians.
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