Analysis / Hudna Intoxication

The Israeli movie `Operation Grandma' has something of a cult following in the IDF and graduates of army courses can quote passages by rote. This week, a senior army officer referred to a scene in the movie, set in the days of the Oslo Accords.

The Israeli movie `Operation Grandma' has something of a cult following in the IDF and graduates of army courses can quote passages by rote. This week, a senior army officer referred to one relevant scene in the movie, set in the days of the Oslo Accords. An IDF officer was trying to explain to the head of an undercover unit in Gaza how the diplomatic process would affect events in the field: "Look, Sagiv, we're now faced with the problematic issue of peace."

Grinding its teeth, the IDF is slowly getting used to the cease-fire and is adjusting itself to its own limitations. The hudna (temporary cease-fire), for the time being at least, is the only game in town. All parties - the U.S., Israel, the Palestinian Authority and, to a certain extent Hamas too - have an interest in preserving it.

In the IDF intelligence and planning division, they are even willing to stick their necks out and say the hudna will probably last beyond its original expiry date - September 29 - which, coincidentally, marks the third anniversary of the intifada.

At the weekend, The New York Times reported that the United States does not intend to pressure Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas on Israel's main demand, the immediate dismantling of the militant organizations.

The IDF believes that the story is more complex. Israel and the PA are currently playing a nerve-wrecking game in which it is still not clear who will blink first. Will Israel give up its demand that the PA disarm terror groups, or will the Palestinian side continue to avoid a direct confrontation with them.

In principle, the Americans support the Israeli position. The Bush administration also understands that without the dismantling of the infrastructure, Hamas is simply using the respite to recoup its forces and is holding on to the right to renew the violence at a later, more convenient, time.

But the U.S. and Israel disagree on timing. At the top of the president's agenda is the war on terror, not the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. On the question of timing, the White House has been sympathetic to the Palestinians' claim that the PA is using this period to grow stronger at the expense of Hamas.

Abbas also claims that a direct conflict between the PA and Hamas, if the former were to lose, would lead to a renewal of violence and the toppling of the PA by Israel. If, on the other hand, Israel made more gestures toward the PA, support for the peace process among ordinary Palestinians would grow. In other words, as the Americans see it, so long as there is no new wave of terror, there is no need to intervene.

In the meantime, the parties are making do with hesitantly sounding each other out. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is personally involved in formulating an agreement whereby wanted men in the northern West Bank would be transferred to the supervision of PA security officers in Jericho, in exchange for an Israeli guarantee that they would not be harmed.

Meanwhile, Chairman Yasser Arafat tried on Saturday to hitch a ride on the agreement and use the opportunity to get rid of his own wanted men - the militants holed up in the Muqata. Arafat hoped to buy his release from the besieged compound by sending these men to Jericho, but, faced by the furious reaction of the men themselves, it appears he changed his mind yesterday.

IDF sources say the PA demonstrates "cowardice, helplessness and indecision when facing Hamas." This is seen not just in the continued smuggling and experiments with Qassam rockets, but also in the little stories behind them.

Last week, the IDF found plans were afoot to smuggle a large shipment of arms from Egypt to Gaza, via the Rafah tunnels. The information was relayed to the PA and members of their security service were sent to the neighborhood where Fatah members were waiting for the shipment, but they were quickly sent packing by members of the local clan.

In the northern Gaza Strip, Hamas declares a `closed military zone' every time it tries to fire a rocket, preventing PA forces from entering the area. Israel sends periodic warnings to the PA, saying that if they don't manage to clamp down on terror, and fast, Israel will halt the diplomatic process and may even weigh an aggressive response against the PA.

But the truth, as sources in the General Staff admit, is that "the quiet is intoxicating and misleading." As long as there is quiet, therefore, and no local incidents get out of control, it is in no one's interest for the hudna to be broken.

If the hudna goes on, Israel will continue to provide a steady dribble of "good will measures" and both sides will wait - at least until after the American presidential elections of 2004.