An article in Ha'aretz by Zvi Bar'el analyzes the hudna in detail:
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."
I believe that Sharon lacks the political and ideological motivation to allow this process to move forward. The Israeli governments response to the hudna betrays the political self-interest of the settlers (to whom Sharon is beholden at the expense of the rest of the Israeli polity):
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.
The rhetoric of the Israelis and the Bush administration aside, there is a real potential here for progress, because the reason the terror groups are willing to unilaterally adopt the constraining language of the hudna is to achieve a united Palestinian government:
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.
Incorporating the terror organizations into a single umbrella is essential to creating the environment for actual reform in the PA government. As long as Hamas for example exists outside the PA, providing social services to the Palestinian people from its civil wing, they will act as both a check upon the legitimate PA government and be freer to operate their terror threats and attacks against innocent Israeli people. The right model here is Sinn Fein - a way of co-opting the political currency of the terror group and thus achieving the goal of disarmament not by force, but rather by expediency.
Of course this does not mean that Islamic Jihad or Hamas will renounce their political goals of destroying Israel or implementing Sharia or their other nonsense, but as political parties in a united PA government, these are tempered by check and balaces inherent to government, just as the GOP's impulses to tear down Roe vs Wade or Social Security are thwarted even during absolute GOP rule over all three branches of the US government:
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.
And that is the key - that the entire process must result in a notable improvement in conditions for the general Palestinian populace, who are the real target audience that Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and the PA are all struggling to influence. The one thing that partisans of both sides in the conflict refuse to acknowledge - for purely polemical reasons - is that both sides are rational actors. The demand that the Palestinian terror groups simply "disarm" as a precondition for peace is nonsensical. The right way to actually achieve their disarmement, however, is to give Abu Mazen the breathing room to make it appealing for Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and Fatah to cede to his authority.
This is a critical opening - and the language of the hudna is the sign.
I am a pessimist about the conflict however. My prediction is that Sharon will order another assassination either today or tomorrow, and this will of course shatter the agreements being reported today. If that happens, then the hudna will have been broken, and the cycle will continue.
But the road map will of course be derailed, and there won't be any dismantling of settlements. And that's the only goal that Sharon has.
UPDATE: Fatah has joined the hudna, probably because of Marwan Barghouti's tireless efforts at convincing them of the counter-self-interest of not doing so. I had also agreed with Jonathan's assessment that the minor terror groups probably would not sign on, but to my surprise, it seems that at least two (PFLP, DFLP) have done so. But it only takes one angry terrorist, regardless of his affiliations, to give Sharon an excuse - and I doubt Sharon even needs an excuse anyway, to stop this momentum.