Abu Marzouk, a key figure of the Hamas politburo, had never spoken with a representative of a Jewish publication before he responded positively in April to a request for an interview by the left-leaning American Jewish daily the Forward.
For the five-and a-half-hour interview, conducted in English over a period of two days, Cohler-Esses traveled to a suburb of Cairo, where Marzouk has made his home since Hamas vacated its Damascus headquarters. There were no preconditions set on the interview, and a well-prepared Cohler-Esses asked hard-hitting questions. In the end, the Forward, in an editorial, expressed serious doubts about Hamas readiness to be “a partner for peace.”
With this said, however, there is one major point made by Marzouk that requires a closer examination:
Hamas, he said, would not agree to a final peace treaty with Israel. “When we reach the agreement, our point of view is, it’s a hudna. Let’s establish a relationship between the two states in the historic Palestinian land as a hudna between both sides.
“It’s better than war and better than the continuous resistance against the occupation. And better than Israel occupying the West Bank and Gaza, making all these difficulties and problems on both sides.”
What he’s talking about, then, is an Israeli withdrawal to the ’67 lines that culminates, from Hamas’s perspective, not in a final peace treaty, but with a hudna.
Hudna is routinely translated as “truce.” Thus the casual Western reader might conclude from Marzouk’s words that Hamas is tired of fighting, weary of launching terrorist attacks, and might be on its way to evolving a more peaceful stance. Perhaps in time, it could be reasoned, a temporary truce negotiated by Hamas might even become permanent.
Such a conclusion, however, would reflect a very serious and dangerous misreading of the situation. For a hudna is not a “truce” in the Western sense of that word. As Dr. Denis MacEoin, writing in the Middle East Quarterly has observed, there are more than seven other Arabic words for truce or cease-fire in Arabic. A better understanding of the full cultural baggage attached to hudna is necessary in order to grasp what Marzouk has really said:
A hudna is always temporary, and not for a duration of more than ten years. As a concept, it does not carry within it the potential to develop into a full peace. Rather, it is arrived at during times of Muslim weakness, when it is perceived as desirable to seek a respite from open hostilities.
Historically hudna is associated with the Truce of al-Hudaybiyya in the seventh century. Muhammad and his followers had abandoned Mecca to non-Muslims because they did not have sufficient strength to hold it. At Hudaybiyya, a truce was negotiated that was to permit the Muslims to return unarmed to Mecca annually for the next ten years for purposes of religious pilgrimage. Two years later, however, using an infraction of the agreement as a pretext, Muhammad and his followers, who then had sufficient strength, moved in and took Mecca; its residents, believing they had a truce with Muhammad, were unprepared to do battle.
This is the model: When weak, strike a temporary truce, utilize the time to regroup and garner additional strength, and then move in.
Once this is understood, then a hudna with Hamas must be viewed as tactically a negative for Israeli defense. When there is no hudna in force, Israel is able to act for security purposes, hitting a rocket launching site there, a tunnel from which arms are smuggled there.
But if there is a temporary truce in force, in Muslim terms, Israel is expected to refrain from all hostilities. At the same time, Hamas, while temporarily refraining from hostilities as well, will have no compunction about building its arsenal and training its troops. Thus will it garner strength towards the day of its choosing when, most certainly, it will break that truce and hit Israel.
American-Israeli Arlene Kushner, author, journalist and blogger, has written extensively about Israel security issues. She serves as a consultant to the Center for Near East Policy Research; her work can be seen at www.arlenefromisrael.info .