Sadly, four years of peace in Ireland offers little hope for the Middle East

Share

It is a tragic coincidence that, on the day the people of Northern Ireland reflected on the satisfactions of peace four years after the Good Friday Agreement, the people of Israel and Palestine were hurled deeper into the vortex of violence and despair.

It is a tragic coincidence that, on the day the people of Northern Ireland reflected on the satisfactions of peace four years after the Good Friday Agreement, the people of Israel and Palestine were hurled deeper into the vortex of violence and despair.

It is tempting to draw lessons from one situation for the other, but – as Tolstoy did not quite say – while all wars are alike, every peace process is resolved in its own way. John Reid, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, was wise simply to draw attention to the tit-for-tat killings in Israel as a reminder of how far Northern Ireland has come since 1998. Even so, he went too far when he said, of this week's tit-for-tat attacks in Israel: "Northern Ireland used to be like that." No it did not. Without in any way diminishing the scale of what has been achieved by the Good Friday Agreement, the situation in Northern Ireland was never as awful and bloody as that in the Middle East.

There are, of course, many superficial similarities between the two situations. Land was taken by one people from another; a two-state solution was agreed but failed to settle the issue; a minority on one side resorted to terrorism, provoking a punitive reaction that increased support for violence. In both cases ceasefires came and went, talks started and stopped and Senator George Mitchell delivered a report.

However, the differences are more important than the similarities. The IRA never used suicide tactics, while the British Government, although it strayed into "shoot to kill", never adopted a policy of assassination. But the differences go deeper than the mere tactics deployed on either side. The styles of thought that brought the IRA to realise that it could better further the interests of its people by peaceful means are Western, secular and Marxist-influenced. Those that drive the leaders of Fatah and Hamas to send their footsoldiers to kill Israeli citizens at random and without warning are quite different. Yasser Arafat, who once led a secular liberation movement recognisable to Western Marxists, was driven yesterday to talk of dying as a martyr.

Equally, the attitudes of the Israeli people are unlike those of Northern Irish Protestants, and those of the Israeli government totally unlike the pragmatism of the British Government. The horrors suffered by Jews in the last century, and the psychology of a tiny, isolated Jewish state fighting for its existence, ensure as much.

To the extent that it is possible to make broad generalisations about both situations, they only emphasise further how far apart they are. Two things made peace possible in Northern Ireland: both sides felt they had an interest in a settlement; and both sides – and other influential parties – were represented by individuals who showed leadership. None of those conditions is met in the Holy Land.

The Israelis feel, with considerable justification, that they have tried negotiation, only to be rejected by Mr Arafat, and that the only option is to try to control the Palestinian extremists by force. They are mistaken, not in principle but in practice, although it may take many more awful deaths for the ineffectiveness of ever-heavier repression to become evident. The Palestinians, meanwhile, under the ineffective leadership of Mr Arafat, are ever more prone to the nihilistic appeal of a holy war.

Unfortunately, just because peace was possible in Northern Ireland after hundreds of years in which it was deemed impossible, does not mean it will happen in the Middle East. Until the outside world – principally the United States – can alter the participants' perceptions of where their interests lie, and until both sides throw up new leaders who are prepared to persist in making the painful compromises needed, the prospects of peace remain distant indeed.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Telesales & Customer Service Executives - Outbound & Inbound

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...

Recruitment Genius: National Account Manager / Key Account Sales

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for a...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join...

Recruitment Genius: Recruitment Consultant

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We have an excellent role for a...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Pakistani volunteers carry a student injured in the shootout at a school under attack by Taliban gunmen, at a local hospital in Peshawar  

The Only Way is Ethics: The paper’s readers and users of our website want different things

Will Gore
 

Labour's Simon Danczuk is flirting with Nigel Farage, but will he answer his prayers and defect?

Matthew Norman
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

Marian Keyes

The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick