Peace Process Parallels: Northern Ireland and the Middle-East

In the wake of the UN decision to recognise the state of Palestine (albeit not as a full member of the UN) it seems timely to return to the question of parallels between the peace process here and in the Middle East, most recently highlighted on Slugger in relation to remarks by former US envoy Richard Haass.

The decision by many firm allies of the US to support the Palestinian bid despite US opposition was one of the most striking aspects of the vote. Many of these states clearly believed that it was important to produce pressure for compromise on the part of the stronger party in this case (Israel) by strengthening the weaker party (Palestine). It also served the purpose of demonstrating to Palestinians that political progress by peaceful means is possible.

At a symposium on Negotiating Peace in Galway last November former senior MI6 officer Michael Oatley drew some striking parallels between the conflicts in Ireland and the Middle-East (Video here: sound quality improves after the first couple of minutes).

His remarks are particularly significant because of the pivotal role he played in back-channel communication between the British government and the Provisional Republican leadership for many years. They reflect too his long experience at the highest levels of the British Intelligence system, as former MI6 Controller for the Middle East, Controller for Europe and subsequently  MI6 Director of Counter-terrorism.

The occasion for his talk was the donation of the papers of intermediary Brendan Duddy to the National University of Ireland Galway. Oatley spoke primarily about his work with Brendan Duddy and his personal experience in the North but he also drew direct parallels with the contemporary conflict in Israel/Palestine.

Also speaking at the symposium were former senior Irish diplomat Seán Ó hUiginn who played a crucial central role in the peace process (video) and Professor Paul Arthur, former Professor of Politics at the University of Ulster (video). All three speakers elaborated on their remarks in the Q and A session that followed.

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  • Pete Baker
  • tmitch57

    In the Israeli-Palestinian conflict it is absurd to contend that Israel is in the same position as Britain. Britain’s equivalent is America, involved but exercising occasionally some restraining influence on Israel as London exercised on the unionists. The Likud is the equivalent of the DUP, so expecting it to suddenly start talking sincerely is a lost cause. Washington should imitate the Northern Ireland peace process by creating its own form of dual mediation by choosing a mediation partner that has some influence over the Palestinians but is not totally ostracized by Jerusalem. My suggestion is for the EU to play this role.

    If you want more lessons read my book “When Peace Fails: Lessons from Belfast for the Middle East” (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2010)
    Thomas G. Mitchell