Thursday, January 29, 2009

On Mitchell's Irish Success

Alex Massie was the Washington correspondent for the Scotsman, Alex Massie writes a blog for The Spectator. He lived in Dublin during the 1990s, asserts that

...the lessons of Northern Ireland cannot be easily applied to the Middle East-nor can Mitchell's Belfast template be readily transferred to Jerusalem.

There are some similarities...Sinn Fein and the Republican movement explicitly identified with the Palestinian cause, leaving the Unionists, for better or worse, to be associated with the Israelis. Both sides persuaded themselves that they, not their opponents, were the victims.

Mitchell's insight was to perceive that there could be no piecemeal deal. Instead there would have to be a grand bargain...This took years. When Mitchell arrived in Belfast the two parties would not even sit at the same table. Their discussions were relayed via a third party--Mitchell.

Mitchell was eventually able to persuade each party that it was unrealistic to suppose they could negotiate without giving ground. But the nature of what they were required to concede differed widely. Sinn Fein and the Republican movement acknowledged, for the first time, that not only did Northern Ireland exist as a political entity but that is also had a right to exist...In a similar fashion, it is hard to imagine Israelis being enthused by any putative recognition of their state's right to exist on the part of the Palestinians. That's the bare minimum they may feel like expecting.

...[what resulted was] the consequence of giving Sinn Fein the better end of the bargain. To Mitchell, the most important objective was keeping the Republicans on board. If replicated in the Middle East, this would be to pacify Hamas at all costs.

At the heart of the dilemma in northern Ireland was what came to be known as "constructive ambiguity": that is, the IRA signed on to an agreement that seemed to pledge them to disarm, but precious little pressure was put upon them to do so for fear that the IRA might wreck the agreement and return to war. The failure to hold Sinn Fein and the IRA to their commitments would eventually render the entire peace process hollow.

That wasn't Mitchell's concern, however. Throughout the process he was a patient, determined, cordial facilitator. A deal would be a deal. He overcame initial suspicion and was, in the end, regarded as a dogged, honest broker. There's no reason to suppose that he won't demonstrate similar qualities in his new role...

...Equally importantly, negotiations in Northern Ireland were the product of exhaustion. Most of the IRA leadership had realized there was no prospect of a military victory. They could not bomb "the Brits" out of Northern Ireland. Thirty years of paramilitary warfare had taken its toll: The Republican movement was tired and ready...But right now, in the immediate aftermath of the latest military engagements, that seems a dubious proposition...

And from a comment there:

The difference between the Northern Irish Peace Process and Middle East peace negotiations is even greater than acknowledged by Massie. By the time Mitchell had become fully engaged as a mediator, the IRA had declared a cease-fire, which essentially held throughout the process and afterward. Hamas is not ceasing its anti-Israeli "physical force" actions. Sinn Fein controlled the IRA and was the only radical faction standing in the way of peace. Hamas and the PLO now compete for the status of spokesman for the entire Palestinian movement, and there is no telling what further splinter groups may arise out of the cauldron of Palestinian discontent. On the other side, Israel is not analogous to the United Kingdom...Israel and Israeli territory is the whole game. Israel does not have to concede affairs in only one appendage of its territory to achieve peace, as London had. Israel requires recognition of its legitimacy and its territorial integrity to assent to a workable peace deal; there is no sense that Hamas, constitutionally committed to the exact opposite, is in any way prepared to do that. Thus, the circumstances are so different between these two situations that it is unhelpful to forecast the degree of Mitchell's likelihood of success based on Northern Ireland. Were that it was only so.

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