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Lessons for a fruitful peace process from Northern Ireland

Achieving genuine conflict resolution requires a dedicated approach that incorporates building trust and relationships between communities from opposing sides of a deeply divided society. Lessons for the Israeli-Palestinian peace process from Northern Ireland.

A new joint identity? End sectarianism (Haggai Matar)

A new joint identity? End sectarianism (Haggai Matar)

Israeli and Palestinian flags are frequently seen flying in Northern Ireland, often in Loyalist and Republican areas respectively. This is symbolic of how even in a place that is 15 years into its peace process, divisions still exist to the extent that some communities take sides in a different conflict as a continuation of their own.

Be wary when comparing “The Troubles” in Northern Ireland to the situation in Israel/Palestine, especially when it gives opportunity to public figures such as Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations Ron Prosor to disingenuously proclaim a desire to export lessons from the Northern Irish peace process (his loud exclamations that “We [Israel] can learn from Ulster” are just another form of propaganda to sooth the international community).

Building peace allows communities to reconcile differences and hold on to one’s own identity, while respecting the “other’s” opposing identity and ideas for the future.

The existence of defined structures for delivering equal justice is key, which is why a continuous discussion is necessary when it comes to finding a civil pathway to peace (as Haggai Matar noted in his recent piece on Northern Ireland).

Two important points stand out in Haggai’s piece: the first accepting that “no two conflicts are alike,” and the second is the emphasis on realizing that “a solution that fits one conflict could never be copied successfully to anywhere else.”

True peace and reconciliation comes from being valued, respected and dignified. If there is no genuine relationship or respect among the parties involved, then the situation isn’t going to get anywhere and achieving peace remains little more than fantasy.

Thus, in order to reach genuine peace, a set of basic rules and stages is required. A recent article from Quintin Oliver, a man who helped run a non-party ‘YES’ Campaign in the 1998 Referendum on the Good Friday Agreement, illustrates this in his 15 laws of peace processes.

While Oliver’s laws discuss Northern Ireland, I find some points give an inkling as to what may be lacking in Israel today:

1. Citizenship should be clarified and open to all. Those under Israel’s direct control are not afforded the right to citizenship, and therefore to democratic participation and other benefits that come with it. Palestinians and Israelis must be free to make and exercise their own choices with relation to citizenship and national self-determination within either Palestine, Israel or both.

2. Security must be guaranteed for all, without fear or partiality. Achieving a stable situation is desired in order to bring about an end to violence. Confidence among communities can only increase when Israel and Palestine reach a consensus on the primacy of evenhanded application of security, where both parties can be trusted with ensuring a commitment to one another’s safety and rights.

3. Interpretation and implementation of the law must be assured through an independent judiciary. There cannot be room for a politicized application of the law, as this will only deepen the sense of injustice towards those who are being or perceive themselves to be oppressed by structural discrimination.

4. Truth will always vie with justice as we try to understand what happened to us. A robust process of managing and dealing with the past is essential.

5. Armed groups must be subject to full disarmament, disbandment and reintegration. All armed groups must agree to an internationally observed decommissioning, an agreement to lift the siege on Gaza and an Israeli military withdrawal from the West Bank must follow.

6. International and external forces must be eased out of the day-to-day decision-making. Though important in order to kick start the first stages of a peace process, there must be space for standalone interaction. Over-dependence on international actors providing dishonest brokerage has given Israel ample opportunity to continue its occupation, even 20 years after the Oslo Accords were signed.

7. All legal voices must be included, so as to absorb their political views appropriately. A solution cannot simply involve the Palestinian Authority alone. There needs to be inclusivity, and the question one must always ask is whether the voiceless are being heard.

8. Societal infrastructure must be based on equality and sharing, or risk intensifying division. If the Israeli government and some Palestinian groups continue to institutionalize discrimination using the education system, public transport, housing, teacher training, arts and sports, then division will remain in both societies.

9. A free press which would hold the powerful to account without interference is self-evident. The need for a critical and proactive approach within Israel to push creative policy development is obvious. Israeli society seems dominated by nationalist discourse propagated by the government. Furthermore, there is a need for freedom to criticize the Palestinian Authority and Hamas on legitimate issues affecting the areas under their control.

10. Each party to the conflict must be afforded the right to argue for its own vision of the future with impunity. There are still political groups that advocate the destruction of Northern Ireland as an entity, and yet there has been an end to violence, discrimination, checkpoints etc. A strong desire to end conflict on all levels must be expressed by all sides. Israel requires a fundamental societal shift to achieve circumstances in which other visions are given space for peaceful expression. Of course, the advocation of hatred, murder and other crimes must not be ignored.

If civil society demands a peace process that adheres to the above groundrules, we can remain optimistic about achieving peace between Israel and Palestine.

Gary Spedding is a student at Queen’s University in Belfast and a member of his university’s Palestine Solidarity Society and QUB’s students’ union. Follow him on Twitter.

Related:
Maintaining conflict, stopping bloodshed: Lessons from 15 years of peace in Northern Ireland

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  • COMMENTS

    1. The Trespasser

      Ignorance and lack of knowledge of foreign activists is the reason why there won’t be any “peace”

      1. Citizenship should be clarified and open to all.

      What about those under direct Israel’s control who refuse to accept Israeli citizenship? Apparently, author has forgotten that Palestinian Arabs are denying Jews equal rights in Palestine, which is the root cause of the conflict.

      2. Security must be guaranteed for all, without fear or partiality.

      Security guaranteed for all = Arabs’ acceptance of Jewish state. Have not happen before, will not happen in future.

      3. Interpretation and implementation of the law must be assured through an independent judiciary.

      Group A refuses accept Group B as their equals, while Group B is controlling Group A. Obviously, until Group A changes their racist behavior, there is no reason to make an unpoliticized law.

      4. Truth will always vie with justice as we try to understand what happened to us.

      Truth… One of major causes to the conflict is false claim that Muslims have any kind of rights to Jerusalem – that Mohammad had visited it, so Jerusalem is Muslim forever.
      I suggest that author goes to any mosque and tries to robustly deal with this particular lie.

      5. Armed groups must be subject to full disarmament, disbandment and reintegration.

      And all elephants must be painted pink.

      6. International and external forces must be eased out of the day-to-day decision-making.

      That’s a nice one. How exactly could international and external forces be eased out, if Palestinian Arabs are part of Arab people?

      By the way, what gave Israel given Israel ample opportunity to continue its occupation is the wave of terrorist attacks carried out by Palestinian Arabs right after Oslo Accords were signed.

      7. All legal voices must be included, so as to absorb their political views appropriately.

      Hamas is a somewhat legal voice which is calling for destruction of Israel. Obviously, there is no point in hearing them, nor talking to them.

      8. Societal infrastructure must be based on equality and sharing, or risk intensifying division. If the Israeli government and some Palestinian groups continue to institutionalize discrimination using the education system, public transport, housing, teacher training, arts and sports then division will remain in both societies.

      Division hardly can be any more intensive than in is already. Societies are divided for over a century, what kind of obnoxious undergraduate thinks that he had a solution?

      9. A free press which would hold the powerful to account without interferenceis self-evident.

      There is an astounding amount of free press in Israel.
      “Israeli society seems dominated by nationalist discourse propagated by the government” – that’s a blatant lie. Totally expected from a European activist.

      10. Each party to the conflict must be afforded the right to argue for its own vision of the future with impunity.

      Palestinian Arabs are arguing that Jews have no right to have a homeland in Palestine for about100 years now. To tell the truth – whatever they have to say about their vision of the future is of no interest at all, since it won’t include the state of Israel.

      >There are still political groups that advocate the destruction of Northern Ireland as an entity, and yet there has been an end to violence, discrimination, checkpoints etc.

      There is a bit of difference between destruction of Northern Ireland and destruction of Israel. These territories does not have a same international status, to begin with.

      >A strong desire to end conflict on all levels must be expressed by all sides.

      Oh, such desire is most clearly expressed by Arabs – all they need to end this conflict is mere few days, after which the Palestine could be declared Judenfrei and the conflict would end, naturally.

      >Israel requires a fundamental societal shift to achieve circumstances in which other visions are given space for peaceful expression.

      Yet another lie. Even two lies – author is implying that it is malevolence of Israeli Jews, which is fueling the conflict, while peaceful Arabs are ready to accept their Jewish brethren any day.

      Reply to Comment
      • cpublishing

        Endless points of nonsense. Anything substantial, fascist?

        Reply to Comment
    2. shmuel

      Good article Gary, thank you.

      Trapassor,
      Palestinian Arabs are not denying Jews equal rights in Palestine. If the new immigrants would come as normal human beings and not as cowboys stealers…

      Reply to Comment
      • XYZ

        You mean that Palestinians want Jews to have “equal rights” like the people in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Algeria, Egypt, etc, etc, do?
        There was an article in the New York Times saying how the number of “blasphemy” prosecutions against Christians regardong the State Religion, Islam, in Egypt have increased dramatically. Does this show the the Egyptians as giving “equal rights” to their Christian minority? DO you think Palestinians have less zeal for their religion than do Egyptians and wouldn’t persecute Jews the same way?

        Reply to Comment
        • carl

          Historically Pals are one of the most secular populations in the Middle East, although the “Barbarians image” fits your attempt to keep justifying the occupation of their land. Btw, Syrians, Iraqis & co are under Syrian, Iraqi dictatures, while the Palestinians live under a foreign occupation: a little particular in your “barbarian fabricated world”, an important fact for the local human beings.

          Reply to Comment
          • XYZ

            Interesting how you say that being a devout Muslim is being a “barbarian”, something I never said.
            Egyptians, in the period of British domination and through the Nasser period were more ideologically secular than the Palestinians ever were, particularly among the more educated and wealthier sectors of society, yet look at them today. Also please explain why the local Muslim Brotherhood branch, called HAMAS has the level of popularity that it does. It is probabaly no less than the level of support for the MB in Egypt.

            Reply to Comment
          • Leen

            You can be a devout Muslim and a secular.
            I know many religious Muslims who keep religion to themselves and don’t have any desire to see Islam in the government.

            Reply to Comment
          • XYZ

            This seems to be the crux of the political struggle going on in the Muslim countries of the Middle East today. You are quite right….many religiously observant Muslims do not want Islamist governments. Alhtough, in Egypt, the MB and Nour-Salafists together got something like 75% of the vote in the parliamentary elections, Mursi, the MB candidate got far less in the following Presidential election. The problem is that the Islamists believe that a secular gov’t CAN NOT bring social justice and national development because they are ignoring what they believe to be the divine law. MB thinker Sayyid Qutb believed that secular gov’ts were comparable to the “jahiliya”-chaotic time before the rise of Islam, even if the population was Muslim. The MB and Salafists are not going to give up this belief easily and I see many years of conflict ahead over this cardinal issue.

            Reply to Comment
          • Leen

            The problem is secularism is nowadays regarded as a dirty word in the Arab world, because it is associated with Mubarak, Gaddafi, Saddam (to some extent, although he did get a bit religious at the end), Assad, Ben Ali, etc. They were not exactly shining beams of democracy and freedom. Also i think the fall of the USSR has significantly weakened secularism as an ideology in the Middle East. Also with the fall of the USSR, Islamic parties usually developed a social justice network that filled the void of poverty that was perpetuated by these secular regimes.

            As for the election in Egypt, I do believe that the Democratic Alliance Bloc (which included liberals, and seculars as well, with moderate Islamist) gained %37.5 of the vote, and Islamist bloc (the salafists) gained 27.5%. Which I am not entirely surprised as the MB was the most organized force after Mubarak, and any seculars were usually associated with the old regime.
            Again keep in mind that the majority of Egypt are poor and many of them are illiterate, and Islamists have a very strong foundation in social justice which is why they managed to gain so many seats. Even so, Egyptians are extremely dissatisfied with Morsi and are protesting pretty much every week.

            It isn’t really surprising that Islamists have swept the elections in most Arab country, post-Arab Spring, as they were the most organized force and filled the void. Give it another 10-15 years and those same parties will be overthrown.

            Reply to Comment
      • The Trespasser

        >Palestinian Arabs are not denying Jews equal rights in Palestine.

        Oh, they do, as a matter of fact.

        From the very inception.

        Balfour declaration, for instance, merely called to give Jews the same rights as Arabs had – but was rejected, because Jews can’t have same rights as Arabs in an Arab state.

        Examples are numerous. I’d even say that you won’t be able to find even one case where Arabs had accepted Jews as their equals, which is not surprising, since for Christian AND Islamic point of view Jews had failed.

        >If the new immigrants would come as normal human beings and not as cowboys stealers…

        Until after WWII new Jewish immigrants could not even think of stealing Arabs land. However, selling Arab lands to Jews was restricted in early 20′s.
        Apparently, “normal human beings” could not deal with the local population on equal basis.

        Reply to Comment
    3. rsgengland

      Reading the wish list above is like trying to create that mystical Utopia and Nirvana.
      Israel lives in a neighborhood whose other residents have often and openly, professed both their desire and intention to destroy Israel, and Ethnically Cleanse most of her Jewish inhabitants.
      What is happening to the Christians of Egypt is a perfect example of the way non-Muslim minorities are treated in the middle East and North Africa.
      What makes the +972 blog writers think that the fate of the Jews and Christians in the area between ‘the river and the sea’, would fare any better if this area becomes a Muslim majority country.
      Some examples of this Utopia existing in the Middle East and North Africa would go a long way to allaying my fears.

      Reply to Comment
    4. In 2010 McFarland press of Jefferson, NC, an academic publisher, published my book, “When Peace Fails: Lessons from Belfast for the Middle East.” Because the two-state solution in the Middle East can best be likened to a acrimonious divorce and the power sharing solution in N. Ireland to a shotgun marriage, many things don’t compare. What I found most useful was the dual mediation approach used by the British and Irish governments where two governments that had good relations with each other and were each “sponsors” of one side to the conflict together managed the peace process. Also the process worked because in both countries there was a bipartisan approach to the peace process, which sustained it over the 13.5 years that it took to bed down a stable peace. Since at least the late 1990s the U.S. has lacked such a bipartisan approach to the conflict in the Mideast. Also only President Jimmy Carter showed a comparable level of commitment to the peace process as did Tony Blair, John Major and the three Irish prime ministers. This is probably why Carter achieved a peace treaty and Clinton did not. My concluding chapter consists of lessons from both the NI peace process and the Oslo peace process for future international mediation in the Middle East.

      Reply to Comment

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