Academics dismiss view that Irish peace process is model for Mid-East

Two British academics have dismissed a growing political view that the settlement of Britain's conflict with the IRA could be a model for peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

Dr John Bew and Dr Martyn Frampton, historians from Peterhouse College, Cambridge, said that "the notion of talking to one's enemies - no matter how intransigent or unreasonable they may seem - has been fetishised by many from across the political spectrum".

In their report, Talking to Terrorists: The Myths, Misconceptions and Misapplication of the Northern Ireland Peace Process, the academics point to significant differences in the attitudes and actions of the governments and the terrorist organisations involved in both conflicts.

The report was commissioned by the Jerusalem Centre for Public Affairs, an independent institute for policy research and education headed by former Israeli UN envoy Dore Gold.

Dr Gold said this week: "Unfortunately, there is a growing sense among certain political groups in Britain that draw analogies between the resolution of the IRA problems and Israel's difficulties with Hamas. We felt it was critical to find individuals who were experts on the Irish conflict to look at this question, to see if, by analysis, there was any basis in it, or it was completely full of holes. What emerges clearly is that comparing the IRA to Hamas is like comparing apples to oranges.

"Israeli diplomats who have visited London recently have been lectured in certain quarters that they should learn the skills of British diplomats from their Northern Ireland problems. And the issue is not confined to political circles in London - we have heard it in Washington as well," said Dr Gold.

Dr Bew and Dr Frampton say that while "the IRA posed no existential threat to the British . . . the objectives of Hamas require the destruction of the state of Israel".

They say that an account of the Northern Irish peace process by Tony Blair's former chief of staff Jonathan Powell, and statements last year by Peter Hain, former Northern Ireland secretary, and former Tory minister Michael Ancram, have given impetus to the idea that dialogue should be opened with Hamas and Hizbollah.

Mr Hain described the Irish settlement as a "model for conflict resolution".

The report said that in July 2007, a subcommittee of the House of Lords' recommended that the EU should avoid "an undesirably rigid" approach in dealing with Hamas.

Dr Zion Evrony, Israel's ambassador to Ireland, told the academics that the subject had become a feature of "almost every conversation" he had in Dublin.

Dr Bew and Dr Frampton highlighted the fact that the IRA's influence and popularity was waning when the Good Friday deal was put together, whereas Hamas is at the height of its powers among Palestinians.
They said that when the events were analysed, it became clear that the British and Irish governments laid down the rules, rather than the IRA, which had no choice but to fall in line.

They added that the Irish model is a "misapplication" because Hamas is so different to the IRA in that, despite protests to the opposite, it wants nothing less than the destruction of Israel.

Talking to them would be seen as a sign of weakness by them that would lead them to believe that violence could bring them the success they desired.

    Last updated: 4:20pm, July 22 2009