Monday, August 30, 2010

Note for Israel-PA Talks: It Wasn't The Luck of the Irish But Effective Counter-Terrorism That Brought Peace

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By Barry Rubin

As direct Israeli-Palestinian direct talks restart it is useful to recall the use and misuse of an analogy to the case of Northern Ireland.

In October 2001, British Foreign Minister Jack Straw visited Washington and held a press conference with his U.S. counterpart, Secretary of State Colin Powell. Powell bubbled over about how the Irish agreement supposedly showed:

"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."

This is the sort of naive optimism (let's all just get along, peace is the natural order of things, everybody is really moderate at heart) that Americans so often evince. As the great French intellectual Raymond Aron once explained, "The Americans always have the tendency to believe that wars result from misunderstanding or accidents and suppose that no one could possibly want a war."

In this case, though, Straw dumped cold water on Powell's world view." What he said is worth quoting fully:

"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."

In other words, the terrorists were defeated by tough action, saw they couldn't win, and thus had to change their approach. Of course, in the Israel-Palestinian case, there has been no such attitude toward terrorism internationally. Hamas has been saved as the Gaza Strip's ruler thanks to Western action; the Palestinian side has not been forced to pay the price for violence and intransigence (rejecting Camp David and the Clinton plan, launching a second intifadah, continuing incitement, etc.) and thus has not had to give up the hope of total victory and belief that violence and intransigence could bring that about.

That's a key reason why the current talks will fail.

PS: Here's another study by one of the leading participants on why the Northern Ireland case is not a good parallel for the Middle East.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center is at and of his blog, Rubin Reports, at

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