Friday, February 27, 2009

Tahadiyeh? What tahadiyeh?

Rafael Yisraeli

Until recently, armies fought deep into enemy territory, conquering or retreating from lands, taking control or loosening their grip. Ultimately, both sides would come to the negotiating table to resolve the problem until the next conflict, either through peace agreements or an armistice, border arrangements and regions of influence, POW exchanges, granting rights and exacting obligations. Yet, ever since the Muslim world launched its global terror war, there have been no more accepted rules. It is unclear who is fighting, or why. Small non-state groups engage in hostile acts against individuals, organizations and other states, kidnap hostages and make demands for their release. There is no way to bring the conflict to an end other than by playing by their rules, and since they are ensconced within - and protected by - civilian populations, there is no means to defend oneself without touching off the world's fury.

These asymmetrical groups impose their own concepts and terminology, and the world obediently follows. Hamas and Hezbollah speak of a hudna, an Islamic concept rooted in tradition and precedent, and we are dragged behind them, forgetting internationally accepted terminology like cease-fire, armistice and lull, which obligate the entire world with the exception of these groups.
Recently, since the hudna - which is also bound by Islamic rules and historical precedents - seems too institutionalized for Hamas, and because it may, God forbid, require it to recognize Israel - albeit indirectly - its operatives have concocted a new gimmick, tahadiyeh, which connotes a temporary lull. And if anyone had any doubts, they refuse to extend it beyond one year, 18 months at the most. And then they resume hostilities after beefing up their forces, repositioning themselves and better booby-trapping the civilian populace. For us, while a lull is in and of itself an end, one that would bring relief to our border communities, for them it is the price they have to pay until they make gains.

It is as clear as day why Hamas and Hezbollah are employing these concepts. It is less clear why we have to accept them without reservation. We can reject them, and abide strictly by accepted international terms, which have significance, are applicable by law and offer an exit ramp. When the world prods us to accept a hudna or a tahadiyeh, we should ask it if it understands what these are, and if it would accept them.

Let us recall that the American-led coalition in Iraq and Afghanistan has refused and is now refusing any cease-fire, and is even ruling out any contact or negotiation with Al-Qaida or the Taliban until they surrender. This is what the Allies did in the Second World War. Conceding the surrender of terrorists, while at the same time accepting their terminologies and conditions, was so extreme as to be inconceivable.

Even worse, how does one expect to conduct two negotiations in parallel - with the adversarial government and with that government's opposition? We are obligated by agreements with the Palestinian Authority, and these agreements are not worded in terms such as hudna and the like. There are two options: Either the PA does not represent the Palestinians, and we should thus aim for a deal with Hamas as the true Palestinian representative; or we adhere to our ties with the Palestinians and refuse to reach an agreement with Hamas, either directly or via Egypt. It goes without saying that Hosni Mubarak would unequivocally refuse to allow us to make a separate deal with the Muslim Brotherhood, which is undermining his regime.

It is impossible to abide by the terms of the Oslo Accords - whatever value they may still have - with the Palestinian Authority, while at the same time agreeing to a hudna or a cease-fire with a different faction. Are the Palestinians in Gaza not Palestinians? Do we recognize the existence of two distinct Palestinian entities?

We must put a stop to this confusion. We must decide whom we recognize and with whom we form alliances, we must return to enforcing the set of international concepts that have legal validity and staying power, and we must stop granting legitimacy to a second Palestinian entity that will force us to accept two states of Palestine in addition to Jordan, as well as Israeli Arabs' crystallizing demand for a distinct national identity.

The writer is a lecturer on Islam at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

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