Talking to Terrorists: The Myths, Misconceptions and Misapplication of the Northern Ireland Peace ProcessRead the whole thing.
John Bew and Martyn Frampton
o It has become fashionable to look to the lessons of the peace process in Northern Ireland as holding insights for other areas of conflict in the world. However, this has been done in an uncritical way, often more focused on contemporary agendas than on the core realities unique to the region, which do not necessarily translate elsewhere.
o In some instances, the willingness of a state to negotiate might encourage the terrorists to believe that their opponents are ready to concede - even when this is not the case. In June-July 1972, for example, top IRA operatives were flown to London in order to meet senior British politicians, leading the IRA to believe its violent campaign had forced the British to the negotiating table. After the talks failed, on 21 July 1972, the IRA exploded 22 bombs in Belfast in the space of 75 minutes - killing 9 and injuring another 130 on what became known as "Bloody Friday."
o By the late 1980s and early 1990s, the Republic of Ireland had become a force for stability and peace in Northern Ireland and worked in close cooperation with the British government in the search for a settlement. The same cannot be said of Israel's neighbors. On the contrary, Iran and Syria continue to support Hamas and encourage its violent campaign, offering it arms, funding, training, and sanctuary.
o For the British government, formal negotiations with the IRA could only occur in a context in which republican violence had been brought to an end. With the IRA in a position of declining military and political fortunes, it sought to extricate itself via the peace process. The perception of the republican leadership had become - rightly - that IRA violence had held back the political prospects of Sinn Fein.
o The aims of the IRA posed no existential threat to the British. This is not the case where Israel and Hamas are concerned, however. The objectives of Hamas require the destruction of the State of Israel. Moreover, whereas the political goals of the IRA were confined locally to the future of the island of Ireland, Hamas, by its own admission, is part of a global Islamist movement, known as the Muslim Brotherhood. Thus, diplomatic engagement with Hamas has broader international implications.
Whenever I see the comparison being made between Israel and Ireland in order to encourage Israel to be more open to negotiating with Abbas and Hamas--or criticizing them for failing to do so--I like to point out the following from a 2001 press conference:
Joint Press Availability with British Secretary of State of Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs Jack StrawAnd that is the lesson to take away when comparing Israel to Ireland.
Secretary Colin L. Powell
October 24, 2001
...QUESTION: Secretary Powell, does the situation in Northern Ireland not show us all that negotiations is really the only way forward in all of these situations? And just secondly, when you met Martin McGuinness yesterday, did he give you assurances that there is no link between the IRA and the FARC guerillas in Colombia?
SECRETARY POWELL: We didn't, when I met with him yesterday, we didn't discuss that. We were just sort of celebrating the progress that was achieved yesterday. And I think negotiations are always to be preferred to military conflict, and even when you have military conflict, it doesn't always result in the kind of classic military win. Very often, it sets the stage for negotiations.
And so I hope what we have seen in Northern Ireland in the last 24 hours, which culminates a process that took many, many years long to get to this point, is an example of what can be achieved when people of good will come together, recognize they have strong differences, differences that they have fought over for years, but it's time to put those differences aside in order to move forward and to provide a better life for the children of Northern Ireland.
FOREIGN MINISTER STRAW: Could I just add one thing to that, if I may? Of course, negotiation is far, far better -- infinitely better -- than military action. As far as Northern Ireland is concerned, we welcome hugely the progress that has been made following the Good Friday Agreement. It also has to be said that before that happened, there had to be a change of approach by those who saw terrorism as the answer. And that approach partly changed because of the firmness of the military and police response to that terrorism. And if there had not been that firm response by successive British governments and others to the terrorist threat that was posed on both sides, we would not have been able to get some of those people into negotiations. We would not be marking what is a satisfactory day in the history of Northern Ireland today. [emphasis added]
UPDATE: As Soccer Dad points out below in the comments:
And no one protests Belfast's separation fence.
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