What Belfast Teaches the Middle East

Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness: hard men make a deal

Yes, yes, I know, Northern Ireland and the Middle East are entirely different situation, and things that worked in one place are not going to necessarily work in the other. Nonethless, in this week’s historic Northern Ireland unity agreement, there are certain universal principles from which anyone looking to broker a peace deal anywhere ought to learn.

The original Good Friday agreement ten years ago was brokered by very different parties to the ones who have now joined a unity government. On the Catholic side, it was the SDLP of John Hume who was the dominant voice at the table, while the Ulster Unionists of David Trimble represented Protestant loyalists. But the electorate eventually rejected those parties, and each community chose more uncompromising parties — the Sinn Fein on the nationalist side and the Democratic Unionists on the loyalist side — to represent them at the table.

The government of Tony Blair did not flinch or give up hope, it pressed on, pushing the chosen representatives of both communities into a process that led to agreement. And the agreement may be far stronger than its predecessor, in that it was brokered by hard men on both sides and that has left no significant rejectionist constituency on either side.

The implications for the Middle East should be obvious: Palestinian voters have chosen Hamas to represent them; imagining that Hamas could be excluded from any peace process is not only absurd, it is self-defeating and dangerous.

The grownups of Europe and the Arab world understand that; that’s why they’ve backed the unity government that has drawn Hamas and Fatah together in a single administration. But the hard-line Likudniks who still write the Bush Administration’s policy are still hard at work on schemes designed to split the Palestinians in the naive hope that Hamas can be sidelined.

Conflict Forum reports that there are detailed plans in place to marshal new economic, political and security efforts aimed at smashing Hamas and boosting President Abbas. The very scary clowns who churn out these plans in Washington labor under the illusion that they can manipulate the process through the selective application of sanctions and resources in a way that will prompt the Palestinian electorate to reject Hamas and restore Fatah. Yeah, right, just like all those sweets and flowers the Iraqis have thrown at U.S. forces over the past four years.

If the berserkers like Elliott Abrams in the Administration are not curbed, they will succeed only in destroying the Palestinian Authority and bringing anarchy to its domain, ending all prospects of peace for Israel, and — in that phrase that has become popular on the Republican primary speech circuit — almost certainly “following America home.”

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52 Responses to What Belfast Teaches the Middle East

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