Something happened over the weekend. On Friday Sheikh Ahmed Yassin announced that the Hamas decided on what is known as hudna or "suspension of resistance acts," but delayed the official announcement until the end of the consultations with other Palestinian organizations. The Fatah declared it would present its own proposal and the Islamic Jihad said it intends to adopt "a calming down."
Israel's reaction, as expected, was that the hudna means nothing because it does not include dismantling the Hamas, which is defined as a terror organization. In other words, Israel will not accept less than a Palestinian civil war, even at the price of the Palestinian Authority's losing control. For there can be no other outcome of a war against an organization that represents more than 25 percent of the population, according to opinion polls in the territories.
At any rate the Israeli declarations are of no great importance at the moment, because this is a unilateral Palestinian step and not a negotiation that Israel was part of. The hudna, if agreed upon, will in fact be presented to the American administration by Abu Mazen, under Egyptian auspices and as a gesture made by the opposition organizations to Abu Mazen. The administration will have to worry about keeping Israel's commitments.
But this is not merely a step intended to kick the ball back to the Israeli-American court. The importance of the hudna, if obtained, lies in the two objectives the PA will achieve from it. First and foremost, it will bring the opposition groups and the Hamas and Jihad, which were not part of the PLO, back into a broad national framework under a common leadership.
The second goal, deriving from the first, is the implementation of Abu Mazen's vision to have one law, one security force and one leadership. The PA will be spared going to war against Palestinian citizens to disarm them. The Hamas' weapons will become an inseparable part of the Palestinian defense establishment. The new Palestinian leadership will also be able to relieve the Hamas and Islamic Jihad of the title "terror organizations" and show the world a relevant leadership speaking with one voice and representing one policy.
If these goals are achieved, they will be the most important outcome of the intifada, because only they will enable the advancement of political processes in the territories - holding elections, rebuilding the institutions, uniting the armed forces and applying one law to all. Before all this can happen, Abu Mazen will have to conduct the political negotiations with a heavy load of radical Islamic millstones around his neck.
This does not mean that the Hamas and Islamic Jihad will renounce their core ideology, based on establishing a Palestinian Islamic state and liberating all of Palestine, especially the area that Israel sits upon, on their way to setting up a global Islamic nation.
The Hamas and Jihad are the rivals of the PA no less than they are enemies of Israel. But the hudna may create a new equation of checks and balances in which the Hamas and Jihad will have a political whip, which will be recognized by the PA as well. They will be able to veto any political move of the PA, because they will be part of the process itself.
Hence the tremendous importance of the Israeli reaction in the civil and military arenas. The better the PA is able to demonstrate to the Palestinian public that the hudna is indeed a turning point to a better life, and that there is a real reward to renouncing the armed struggle, the more the opposition groups will have to adapt to public opinion.
This will also be an important guarantee of the PA leadership's ability to maintain an overall Palestinian rule that will be able to stifle the outbursts of violent organizations, not only under Israeli occupation.
That is the vision. Meanwhile there are only agreements in principle, held together by fragile consent, to conditions that are yet to be filled and pending an Israeli and American nod. A hudna, it should be remembered, is only a temporary agreement.
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