I have recently begun writing a column for the local weekly newspaper Metro Eireann. This week I wrote the following article on the Middle East Peace Process.
With the recent renewal of peace talks between Israel and Palestine international attention has once again focused on the situation in the Holy Land. Unfortunately, the overriding feeling appears to be one of pessimism. Peace talks have failed over and over again, so why should it be any different this time ? I believe this sense of despair, while understandable is unwarranted. The Irish know better than anyone that intractable conflict can be overcome. The Northern Irish Process is generally regarded as the most successful Peace Process in the world. If nothing else, it should be a cause for optimism that several people who were intimately involved in peace making efforts in Ireland are now working on the Middle East Peace Process. These include former US Senator George Mitchell who was Bill Clinton's special envoy to Northern Ireland during the 90's and is now President Obama's envoy to the Middle East. Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair who was instrumental in implementing the Good Friday Agreement now represents the Quartet (EU, Russia, USA, UN) in the Middle East. Former Irish President Mary Robinson is a member of "The Elders", a group of experienced statesmen and women brought together by Nelson Mandela to push for peace in the Middle East. Hillary Clinton must also be mentioned in this context. The US Secretary of State and former First Lady's role in Northern Ireland focused mainly on bringing Catholic and Protestant women together in forums for dialogue. One would imagine the presence of so many prominent personalities would inspire confidence. Nobody would deny of course that there are massive obstacles, Jewish settlements, the rights of refugees to return, the status of Jerusalem and final borders, not to mention that if there is agreement on all these issues a settlement will only relate to the PLO in the West Bank as the Hamas controlled Gaza Strip remains outside the Peace Process. Having said that the Irish contribution to the process is and should always remain positive. Unfortunately this is not always the case as some left wing "anti war" groups tend to endorse radical positions that reject the peace process and the two state solution. The only thing this does is influence more hard line elements to reject any compromise. All Irish people should support the efforts of the people of the Middle East to replicate the successes of Northern Ireland. Peace talks are due to resume in the new year. It may turn out that 2011 will be the year the breakthrough is made.
My inspiration for writing the above article was an excellent book I have just read by Jonathan Powell, Tony Blair's former Chief of Staff. In his book, Great Hatred Little Room, Powell articulates just how painstaking the negotiations were and the quite unbelievable levels of unreasonableness that he had to deal with during the behind the scenes negotiations with opposing parties.