How can the peace process in Northern Ireland help bring the occupation to an end? If that conflict teaches us anything, it is that engaging every level of civil society must come before signing an agreement.
By Gary Spedding
No two conflicts have exact the same circumstances; this is an important aspect to remember when comparing and contrasting seemingly intractable conflict anywhere in the world, especially considering the fact that quite often equalizing conflicts often evokes both hostility and enthusiasm in equal measure.
Recently, political analyst Tal Schneider, drew attention to what she described as the “non-existent engagement” with Israeli and Palestinian grassroots and civic society. Her criticism of the most recent Kerry-led initiative has accentuated one of the major flaws in the so-called peace process, thus bringing into sharp focus an “unpleasant top-down feeling.” This, according to sociologist John Brewer is a key problem, resulting from an attitude of imposing rather than building a durable peace. In his book Peace Processes: A Sociological Approach, he cites John Paul Lederach, who rightly contends that peace processes are too focused on reaching a political agreement rather than healing damaged relationships. Maintaining such a process exclusively at the macro political level in a deeply divided society fails to address grievances that extend to civil society.
By cutting swaths of grassroots and civil society representation out of the picture, those running the show have effectively dismissed the importance of community. Such a move can obstruct the required societal shift that often comprises a move away from violent, oppressive conflict, and into a non-violent and democratic political process. Without such a shift, communities most acutely affected by the conflict will remain unenthusiastic about sustainable change and lasting peace.
But the big questions remain: Why have both Israeli and Palestinian political leaders failed to actively prepare their own constituencies for peace? Why do political leaders continue to exploit fear in society instead of encouraging hope? Both Israeli and Palestinian populations need reassurances, not political grandstanding.
It could be said that the Israeli government, more so than the Palestinian Authority, deliberately polarizes their public on complex issues such as security. The need for security, arguably the biggest concern for the Israeli public,...Read More