From One Peace Process to the Next?

From One Peace Process to the Next?

What follows are selections from an article in the summer 2007 issue of ISRAEL HORIZONS by Dr. Thomas Mitchell. Dr. Mitchell is a graduate of Hebrew University in Jerusalem and has a doctorate in international relations from the University of Southern California.

Lessons Tony Blair may bring from Northern Ireland

Early in May, Protestants and Catholics began a unique power-sharing experiment in Northern Ireland. This follows two previously failed attempts — in 1974 and in 1999-2002; hopefully, the third time is the charm. It may be hard to recall, but there was a time in 1993 when the inhabitants of Ulster, as this province of the United Kingdom is also known, were envious of Israelis and Palestinians for having a peace process when they had none.

The Northern Ireland (NI) peace process began in December 1993 with the British and Irish governments drafting the Downing Street Declaration outlining the parameters of this process. … Serious negotiations on power sharing began in the late winter of 1998; after about six weeks, an agreement was signed in Belfast on Good Friday 1998. …

In October 2006, at a summit in St. Andrews, Scotland, the DUP and Sinn Fein reached an agreement on power sharing. … A sinking peace process had been righted by the ceaseless toil of Tony Blair … and Bertie Ahern [then the prime ministers of Britain and Ireland, respectively].

What are the lessons that can be learned from this peace process for the Middle East? First, the importance of dual mediation — the joint mediation by two powers who have relations with the main parties in the conflict, but are closer to each other than they are to their clients. At critical junctures, the two governments would formulate the parameters of negotiations taking into account the interests of their respective clients.

Second, dual mediation works only as long as both patrons represent equally the interests of their clients. …

Third, the peace process must begin with the moderate centrist parties. … It was only because an agreement negotiated between the moderates had been signed early on, that the peace process could later be saved.

Fourth, the peace process takes constant long-term attention from the sponsors in order to be successful. It must also be bipartisan. …

Fifth, the peace process takes commitment at the head of government level — prime ministerial or presidential. It was Blair and Ahern who drove the process in NI.

Let’s now translate all this into Middle Eastern terms. First, the two powers who have a track record of good relations with the two sides and with each other are the United States and the European Union. Second, it should be clear that Washington is unlikely to sacrifice fundamental Israeli interests and should not expect the Europeans to sacrifice basic Palestinian interests.

Third, in the Israeli-Palestinian context, the “centrists” are Meretz and Labor on the Israeli side and Mahmoud Abbas, Fatah and the independents on the Palestinian side. Meretz and Labor have seen an erosion of over 50 percent of their combined Knesset strength since 1992; unless this is revived, the chances for reactivating the peace process are low. …

Jimmy Carter is the only US President who was as consistently focused on peacemaking in the Middle East as were Blair and Ahern in Ulster. … Clinton showed a similar focus for six months from June to December 2000. …

George W. Bush pointedly rejected taking up the Israeli-Palestinian agenda with the same energy and commitment. Bush has become too bogged down in Iraq to be involved successfully in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and his administration is damaged goods in Arab eyes. Therefore, peace in the Middle East awaits a new American administration.

Based on past history and the present composition of the Republican base, a Democratic administration would probably be preferable for this task. Although progress was also achieved in the Middle East under Presidents Nixon, Ford and Bush, Sr., it seemed to be less a priority with them than it was with Carter and Clinton. …

By | 2007-07-27T14:33:00-04:00 July 27th, 2007|Blog|2 Comments


  1. Anonymous July 31, 2007 at 11:37 pm - Reply

    The conflict between Protestant Ulster and Catholic Ireland did not begin in 1993 – it was many centuries old – at least 400 years.

    Let us hope the Israeli/Palestine conflict does not take so long.

  2. Alex December 6, 2007 at 6:23 pm - Reply

    And what do you think of Obadiah Shoher’s arguments against the peace process ( )?

Leave A Comment