July 25, 2003 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 144

The Domestic Palestinian Dispute Over the Hudna

July 25, 2003 | By B. Chernitsky*
Palestinians | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 144

In contrast to the Palestinian commitment stated in the first stage of the road map, according to which the Palestinian Authority will begin "sustained, targeted, and effective operations aimed at confronting all those engaged in terror and dismantlement of terrorist capabilities and infrastructure," [1] Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) chose continued dialogue with the Islamic factions in order to reach an agreement, a Hudna, to temporarily stop operations against Israel. [2]

The Hudna talks, some of which were hosted and mediated by Egypt, began several months ago, even before Abu Mazen's nomination as PA prime minister on April 30, 2003 and before the official release of the road map on May 1, 2003. They ended following disagreement among the participants. With the appointment of Abu Mazen and the release of the road map, the process was renewed and accelerated.

The renewed talks amongst Palestinian factions were carried out on several parallel tracks: Abu Mazen spoke with representatives of Islamic factions in Gaza; West Bank Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti and his emissaries, Fatah representatives Qaddoura Fares and Ahmad Ghuneim, [3] spoke with leaders of the Islamic factions in Damascus; and negotiations also took place in Israeli prisons amongst incarcerated members of various Palestinian organizations. [4]

Though the talks ended with some of the participants agreeing to stop attacks on Israel, no joint declaration was published. Rather, three separate announcements were made, the first by Hamas and the Islamic Jihad, [5] the second by Fatah, [6] and the third by the PLO. [7] Fatah officials admitted that disagreements within the party had prevented a joint declaration.

1. Disagreement Among the Factions

The individuals and organizations involved in the Hudna talks disagreed on a number of fundamental issues: a mention of the road map in the introduction to the declaration, the duration of the Hudna, and its conditions.

A. The Road Map

The Hudna declaration drafted in the talks between Barghouti's emissaries Qaddoura Fares and Ahmad Ghuneim and senior Hamas and Islamic Jihad leaders in Syria did not mention the road map at all. The PLO/PA political leadership (i.e. Abu Mazen) wanted to include the road map in the declaration, but the Hamas and Islamic Jihad representatives refused. [8]

Fatah members attested: "[Fatah officials]," said Fares, "wanted to include in the Hudna what it was not [supposed to] include, by adding a political position to the content of the declaration, which forced Hamas and Islamic Jihad to each make a separate declaration." [9] Similar comments were made by Palestinian Legislative Council member and Fatah leader Hatem Abd Al-Qader in a forum on "When the draft proposal [worked out in Damascus] was submitted to the Palestinian political leadership and Fatah, they tried to make fundamental changes, such as… adding political content and things that cannot be added…" [10]

Further testimony came from officials of Islamic organizations who claimed that it was disagreement within Fatah over the inclusion of political content to the declaration that destroyed the possibility of reaching a joint one. In an interview with the Lebanese daily Al-Safir, Islamic Jihad Secretary-General Ramadhan Abdallah Shalah said: "Fatah backed out of its agreement with us and sought to add political content to which Hamas and the Islamic Jihad could not agree, because then the [Hudna]initiative would become part of the road map." [11]

B. The Duration of the Hudna

The original version of the declaration worked out in Damascus called for a time limit of three months. The PA political leadership favored six months. [12]

C. The Conditions for the Hudna

The Islamic factions asked that the implementation of the Hudna be preconditioned upon an Israeli commitmentto a set of Palestinian demands - the PA political leadership disagreed. [13] In an on-line interview, Al-Qader confirmed the following differences of opinion: "The Fatah and PLO version was counter to the agreement reached between Fatah [i.e.Marwan Barghoutiand his emissaries] and Hamas and Islamic Jihad – an agreement that included a three-month conditional Hudna with no political content…" [14] Islamic Jihad General Secretary Shalah validated this statement: "[Fatah officials] did not want the suspension of [military] operations to be conditioned on commitments by the enemy." [15]

2. The Release of the Hudna Declaration

Ultimately, the Palestinian domestic disagreements led to the release of separate announcements. Each Palestinian element felt the need to publicly make known its view of the Hudna. Hamas and Islamic Jihad also tried to justify their shift in position from total rejection of a truce to acceptance of it. Even organizations that had not actively participated in the Hudna talks expressed their opinions on it after the release of the declaration.

The following is a summary of the main differences in the various versions:

Hamas and the Islamic Jihad refrained from labeling the agreement to stop military operations against Israel a "Hudna." While the PLO and Fatah mentioned the demand for a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders, this was not mentioned by Hamas and the Islamic Jihad (who seek the liberation of Palestine in its entirety). Hamas and the Islamic Jihad also refrained from mentioning the road map, limited the duration of the cessation of operations against Israel to three months, and made a point of mentioning that resistance to the occupation remained "a strategic option." They also demanded "the unconditional release of all Palestinian and Arab prisoners," but did not include a demand for Israeli withdrawal to the September 2000 lines and did not call for international observers.

The PLOalso refrained from using the term "Hudna," but set the duration at six months. It also added political elements to the declaration: a) "the PLO is the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people," and b) the ultimate goal of the Palestinian liberation struggle was to attain a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders with Jerusalem as its capital, and the right of return for Palestinian refugees. The PLO also demanded "the unconditional release of all Palestinian and Arab prisoners," and an Israeli withdrawal to the September 2000 lines. It did not, however, mention international observers.

The term Hudna is also absent from the declaration of the PLO Executive Committee, which did, however, include political elements in references to the Quartet (the U.S., E.U., U.N., and Russia) and the road map. The committee demanded the release of all prisoners and an Israeli withdrawal to the September 2000 lines, and called for international observers.

In its announcement, Fatah noted that the agreement is "a Hudna in accordance with the Egyptian initiative;" it did not specify its duration, and added political content – the goal of the agreement, it said, is to establish a state in the 1967 borders with Jerusalem as its capital, and to implement the right of return. Fatah demanded "the release of all prisoners," Israel's withdrawal to the September 2000 lines, and international observers.

Following the release of the declaration, several other organizations publicly expressed their views of it:

The Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, the military wing of Fatah, declared its endorsement of the Fatah communiqué. [16] Yet the following day, July 1, 2003, a communiqué posted on the Brigades' official website declared absolute rejection of the Hudna. It cited many reasons, primarily "its [the Hudna's] lack of recognition by the Zionists." [17] This was one of several announcements by the organization disclaiming its commitment to a Hudna. [18]

The Arab Liberation Front released a communiqué disavowing its connection with the PLO declaration (which included the ALF's name) since its content "contradicts [ALF's] ideology." [19]

The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine announced its refusal to sign the Hudna but said it would not violate it. [20] In an interview with the Lebanese daily Al-Safir, PFLP Secretary-General Ahmad Sa'dat said that the Hudna opens the door to political negotiations based on the road map, and the PFLP is opposed to both. [21]

In separately published announcements, The Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine [22] and the Popular Resistance Committees [23] both supported the cessation of operations against Israel.

3.Palestinian Statements Following the Hudna Declaration

A short time after the announcement of the cessation of operations against Israel, Palestinian leaders from both Fatah/PLO and the Islamic organizations turned to their constituencies to explain and justify their positions on it:

A. PLO, Fatah, and PA Leaders

In an interview with Reuters, Abu Mazen said: "From now on - anybody, any faction, any party which violates it – we will put them in prison… We will exert every effort to avoid any confrontation with our people. Because if [such a confrontation breaks out], it could get to a civil war and finish off all our people's hopes." [24]

During his July 22 meeting with Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa, Abu Mazen added: "Cracking down on Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and [other] Palestinian organizations is not an option at all. We are applying the law which we accepted under the leadership of the Palestinian Authority, and that is what we will do." [25]

The PA Minister in Charge of Security Affairs, Muhammad Dahlan, was quoted in the independent Palestinian daily Al-Quds as saying, "The natural place for anyone who violates the ceasefire announced by the Palestinian Authority will be [in] a court of law." [26]

Following the mortar and Qassam rocket attacks on Israeli towns that occurred after the declaration of the Hudna, Fatah published a communiqué rejecting all attempts at violating the Hudna, which the communique considered to be "a deviation from the national consensus." The movement called on its members to "fight these actions, denounce them, and expose the elements behind them." Likewise, it called on the Palestinian government to "take responsibility and apprehend anyone operating on his own initiative against the interests of the Palestinian people." [27]

Less binding statements, however, were made regarding the collection of the weapons of the Islamic factions. PA Minister in Charge of Security Affairs Dahlan refrained from responding clearly to a question about whether the weapons of Hamas and the Islamic Jihad activists would be collected: "I don't want to predict events. The Palestinians will behave in a clear manner and will fulfill the commitments." [28]

Fatah R evolutionary Council member Dhiab Al-Lauh addressed the issue in a candid interview with the PA daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida: "The road map refers to the need to dismantle the infrastructure of the military factions and to collect their weapons. But [officials in] the office of the [PA] Prime Minister said they told the Americans and the Israelis that we cannot and do not want to fulfill this condition. [Therefore], an alternate plan was proposed that the Americans and the Israelis were convinced [they should accept] and which included curbing military operations and declaring a Hudna." [29]

In an interview with Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, the head of the Preventive Security Service in the Gaza Strip, Colonel Rashid Abu Shbak, expressed further reservations regarding the collection of weapons: "The news that the security apparatuses are collecting weapons is not correct." [30]

PLC member and Fatah leader Hatem Abd Al-Qader went even further. In a forum on, he said: "[The Hudna's] purpose is not that we lay down our arms, but that we collect ourselves [to rebuild] and continue our struggle. It is not damaging; it is a 'respite of the fighter…'" [31]

B. Hamas and Islamic Leaders

In an effort to explain how the Islamic factions shifted on the Hudna from absolute refusal to acceptance of it, their leaders said that the Hudna was a means of preserving the unity of the Palestinian people, and only a tactical step.

In an interview with the Lebanese daily Al-Safir, Islamic Jihad Secretary-General Ramadhan Abdallah Shalah explained: "Abu Mazen and his government gave [us] assurances that it would not take the steps that Sharon wanted against the resistance factions, that is, disarmament, arrests, and the like." [32] Shalah also said, "The strategy of the Islamic Jihad is to continue the resistance. Suspension of the operations is merely a tactical step… We are not negotiating with the enemy, and we do not recognize him. But preserving the unity of our people and our national interest demands that we… extricate ourselves from the trap that Sharon [set] for our national unity through civil war…" [33]

In his column in the Hamas weekly Al-Risala, Dr. Abd Al-Aziz Al-Rantisi (who said, a few days after the failed Israeli attempt on his life, that "Hamas rejects any call for a ceasefire under the occupation" and "the expression 'ceasefire' does not exist in our dictionary") [34] wrote: "The main motivation for our decision to conditionally suspend the resistance is to prevent the disastrous repercussions of Palestinian infighting, the consequences of which only Allah knows. We have always been very adamant about preserving the unity of the people…" [35]


The process of drafting a Hudna declaration and the various interpretations it has gotten demonstrate the lack of authority in the PA. One indication is the rejection of Abu Mazen's authority by the Islamic factions, which was compounded by disagreements within the PLO and Fatah. These inter-organizational disagreements reflected Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat's efforts to undermine Abu Mazen's authority. However, the affair, in its entirety, is primarily another reflection of the years-long inability of the PLO to be the sole representative of the Palestinian people.

* B. Chernitsky is a Research Fellow at MEMRI.

[1] A Performance-Based Roadmap to a Permanent Two-State Solution to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict,

[2] The Al-Hudaybiyya agreement between the Prophet Muhammad and the Meccan tribe of Quraish (628) served as a precedent and model for all Hudna agreements permitted under Islamic doctrine. The precedent was interpreted by Islamic scholars to mean that the time limit for any agreement with the enemy (which is to be temporary) must not exceed 10 years, since this was the time limit of the Al-Hudaybiyya agreement.

[3] Qaddoura Fares is a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) and a senior member of Fatah. Ahmed Ghuneim is a member of Fatah's Supreme Committee.

[4] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), June 27, 2003; Al-Risala (PA), July 3, 2003.



[7] Al-Quds (PA), June 30, 2003.

[8] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), June 27, 2003.

[9] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), June 30, 2003.


[11] Al-Safir (Lebanon), July 2, 2003; Muhammad Al-Hindi, another high-ranking Islamic Jihad leader, made similar comments: "In the final hours, there was intervention by a number of officials from the Fatah movement who tried to add a specific political position to the introduction of the document. We, together with Hamas, announced our joint refusal to add any political position or any expression that restricts the right of the factions to oppose the Israeli occupation in the event that the Hudna is violated." Al-Nahar (Lebanon), July 2, 2002.




[15] Al-Safir, (Lebanon), July 2, 2003.



[18] In an interview with the French press agency AFP and in a communiqué posted on the organization's website, Zakaria Al-Zubeidi, a commander of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, said that it was the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigadess in Gaza that agreed to the Hudna and not the organization as a whole; Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), June 5, 2003. Al-Zubeidi also said that the Brigades were determined to continue their opposition to the Hudna.

[19] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), June 30, 2003.

[20] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), June 30, 2003.

[21] Al-Safir (Lebanon), July 1, 2003.


[23] Al-Ayyam (PA), July 7, 2003.


[25] Al-Ayyam (PA), July 23, 2003.

[26] Al-Quds (PA), July 4, 2003. From an interview on Israel TV's Channel One.


[28] Al-Quds (PA), July 4, 2003

[29] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), June 7, 2003.

[30] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), June 13, 2003.


[32] Al-Safir (Lebanon), July 2, 2003. Shalah repeated these comments in another Al-Safir interview on July 9, 2003, following a bombing at Kfar Yabetz, Israel, for which his organization took responsibility.

[33] Al-Safir (Lebanon), July 2, 2003. In a July 9, 2003 interview with Al-Safir (ibid.), Shalah said, "No one can expect the cessation of [military operations] to be one-sided… This operation comes as part of the equation 'violations in exchange for violations."


[35] Al-Risala (PA), July 3, 2003.

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