Thursday, July 23, 2009

Oslo for slow learners

There have been a couple of interesting articles in The Irish Times in recent days about the similarities between the Northern Ireland and Arab Israeli peace processes. The most interesting of which was written by Northern editor Gerry Moriarty and was entitled Oslo for slow learners. This is of course a brilliant play on the famous words of SDLP legend Seamus Mallon who described the 1998 Good Friday Agreement as Sunningdale for slow learners. Allow me to explain. In 1973 the Sunningdale Agreement was signed between the Irish and British governments. It created a power sharing executive in Belfast and included a north South dimension which enabled the new Belfast government to meet with the Dublin government to discuss all Ireland issues. Unfortunately however the agreement collapsed after six months due to massive opposition from loyalists who believed that Sunningdale was a conspiracy between the IRA, the Irish government and the Church of Rome to unite Ireland and destroy Ulster protestant culture. It would take another 25 years and cost some 2000 more lives before another agreement would succeed where Sunningdale had failed. The only thing is, when it eventually came in 1998, it was virtually the same as Sunningdale. Hence Mallon's immortal words which in my opinion, bring shame on all the rejectionists, extremists and pessimists who opposed peace or said that it could never be achieved.

Former Taoiseach Liam Cosgrave congratulates former Prime Minister Ted Heath after the signing of the Sunningdale Agreement in 1973. Incidentally everybody assumed that the former Taoiseach who keeps a very low profile was dead until he showed up yesterday at the council of state meeting to fulfill his constitutional obligation. Good to see the old coger hanging in there.

The article by Gerry Moriarty was excellent because as he points out, when peace is eventually achieved in the Middle East it will be some variation of the 1993 Oslo accords. The concept of land for peace is still valid today and as I have often said here, possibly on a grander scale that ever before. Comparisons between Northern Ireland and the Middle East are valid despite what many hard liners say. The most important comparison is I believe the fact in both cases, most people said peace would never happen. It is also worth pointing out that George Mitchell and Tony Blair, two men who played key roles in the Northern Irish peace process are now deeply involved in peace making efforts in the holy land. These men will not be deterred by rejectionists who seek a winner takes all solution to the conflict.


Alifa said...

I don't understand how you can claim that "land for peace" will ultimately lead to an agreement that will be accepted and met by both Israelis and Palestinians. It seems to me that the core problem is, and has always been, the necessity of Arab "honor" to reject a Jewish state entirely and forever. How do you propose to break through the religious/ideological barrier of that essential rejection? As long as Jews are perceived as evil incarnate there is not an ice cube's chance in hell of any agreement. How can we get past the concept of hudna (a temporary ceasefire) and taqiyya (the deception necessary in waging war)?
I admit to being a very discouraged resident of Israel. My friend was murdered; my children have been at the scenes of terror attacks, and I simply do not see a way forward, nor do most Israelis. Any Palestinians with whom we could have negotiated have left the country, in part because of the utter corruption of the Palestinian government.
I do not doubt for an instant that those in Ireland suffered and reached the same level of discouragement, but at least in Ireland both sides were ostensibly Christian, and had some sort of common language that does not exist here. I think that the Irish peace process, as long as it took, was highly influenced by the ecumenical dialogue within Christianity in those years. I simply do not see any bridging element in the Middle East now, especially when the Palestinian goal is to make their territory "Judenrein" for both political and religious reasons.

Ted Leddy said...


Thank you so much for your articulate comments. My apologies for taking so long to respond.

I believe that land for peace will ultimately have to work because the only other long term option is an indefinite occupation. This is unsustainable and will leave Israel with two options, expel all Palestinians to Jordan or incorporate the 3 million Palestinians into Israel. Both of these options will lead to catastrophe. Therefore Israel must ultimately do a deal.

I agree that Arab hatred of Israel and everything Jewish is the number one obstacle to a peace deal. But it is possible to "break through" this barrier. Jews and Muslims don't hate each other more than Blacks and whites in South Africa or Hutus and Tutsis in Rwanda. I grew up listening to so many otherwise intelligent people who had utterly unreasonable solutions on how best to solve the Northern Irish crisis. They hate us they hate us they hate us was all I heard. Therefore when I hear Arab calls to destroy Israel it does not discourage me to the extent it discourages you. However I of course understand that you as someone who has suffered directly from the conflict is entitled to feel highly disillusioned.

A quick word about the Irish comparison. I agree that the cultural differences between Jews and Muslims is far wider that that between Catholics and Protestants. However the Middle East has one major advantage. Israelis and Palestinians do not have to learn to live together. They have to learn to live side by side in separate states. This is easier as you don't have to develop power sharing institutions and affirmative action and all these other excruciating peace building exercises that South Africa and Northern Ireland are still dealing with. Excepted final borders and recognition is the goal in the Middle East. This requires a realisation that there is no "winner takes all" solution to the conflict.