So what can Northern Ireland offer Israel/Palestine by way of a positive example?

So Seanad Eireann is be recalled for the second summer in a row. It’s tempting to see it only in domestic terms of the battle for supremacy on the opposition benches with Sinn Fein calling for debate in the Dail (the Irish lower house) and failing, and Fianna Fail calling for it in the upper house (and succeeding).

The debate itself, or the Gaza end of it will likely focus on the Irish government’s abstention (along with all eight other EU countries) from a vote in the UN Human Rights Council to set up a committee of inquiry on the grounds that the omitting of the mention of Hamas’s incursions into Israel was “unbalanced, inaccurate and prejudges the outcome of the investigation”.

How much anyone outside the country, or even outside Leinster House pays attention to the debate may only be dictated by the quality of that debate, and that depends on how realistic and focused it turns out to be.

In the case of Gaza, the timing of Israel’s attack is notable. It comes at a time when the whole region is subsumed in chaos. On Gaza’s southern borders, Egypt’s new government is aggressively anti Islamic, and has no time, sympathy, mindspace for Hamas.

To the north Syria, normally a powerful player in Israeli military formulations, is subsumed in a civil war which is killing many more times the numbers we’re seeing in Gaza.

The spillover into Iraq has seen the wiping out of some of the longest established Christian communities anywhere in the world, with ISIS also opening up a civil war with both Shiites and Kurds.

To top it all that other beneficiary of western interventionism, Libya has also kicked off into the very ungovernable civil war their late dictator Muammar al-Gaddafi always warned it would.

Few if any of these humanitarian catastrophes has created any media excitement or public sympathy in Ireland, let alone provoked a parliamentary debate.

It’s at this tumultuous time in the middle east that the Israel’s ruthless and aggressive military action against Hamas takes place: ie at the very moment when strategically it is at its weakest, most political isolated and apart from it own presumably limited resources, utterly defenceless.

As the Arab world rips itself apart, the Israelis have taken the law, international and humanitarian into their own hands. Given Israel’s geopolitical position, right in the centre of this tumult, it is highly unlikely that they (or even the Palestinians) will listen anything to that neutral little Ireland might have to say, in the shorter term at least.

Within a longer frame, they might, perhaps: but probably only if we are prepared to be great deal more honest and a lot less equivocal about our own fitful journey towards peace and reconciliation.

The relevance of our peace process is underlined by the centrality of John Kerry’s long diplomatic intervention. If you want to get to grips with that you should take the time to read Ben Birnbaum and Amir Tibon’s long and beautifully researched account of the Good Friday Agreement that wasn’t…

The failure of those talks which careened off the rails after a number of petty defaults on both sides led eventually to the Palestinian’s finally declared a ‘technical’ Unity Government with Hamas. The political vacuum that followed has facilitated Israel’s aggressive military action in Gaza.

So what can Northern Ireland offer by way of a positive example?

Perhaps that…

  1. In the longer term, political problems need political solutions. In the case of Northern Ireland the solution only came after all sides recognised that a military action could not deliver desired political aims.
  2. Which leads to Paul Arthur’s seminal advice  on the need also to rise above the fatalism generated by your own “sui generis” conflict…
  3. ‘Agreement is only a beginning but the mere agreement to stop killing can create a space for the evolution of a new more inclusive  society.
  4. And finally that the real gains will only come in the longer term, with the substantiation of a strong middle ground capable of realising beneficial common goals.

Considering that we are still some way short of 4. Northern Ireland also offers proof that cessation of war is not the same peace.

In a final note, tomorrow’s debate also concerns current events in Ukraine where Ireland through the European Union has a much stronger national interest to defend. Russian proxy action in shooting down a passenger plane flying overhead by international agreement to which both Ireland and Russia are bound is a serious matter that in reality cannot be shuffled off into a tame diplomatic press release.

But as ever, perhaps for oddly taboo reasons, it is the Gaza story is the one that’s more likely to predominate the debate…

PS, the Seanad debate opens at 2pm tomorrow. We’ll have a live blog going with the debate embedded here from about 1.30pm..

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