THE IRISH PATH TO PEACE IN THE MIDDLE EAST
By Jim McDonald
May 30, 2002

My Dear Republican friend (and Democrats too):

You wanted to know why I joined the protest against George W. Bush when he spoke at a fund raiser in San Jose. Besides protesting the ticket cost, $10,000 for the cheap and $100,000 for the better seats, I want to help him. I think that we and the Israelis are making the same mistakes as Britain did in Northern Ireland and there is a lesson to be learned. Also, I am concerned that our president does not distinguish between terrorism and a search for justice.  I do not know if you Republicans can take it but I may have to throw in a nuance or two or even a metaphor. Hope you don't mind. In fact, I suspect that you are not paying any attention but I keep writing. It is cathartic. When we were on a peace mission in Northern Ireland in 1985, I had a dream. I dreamed that not only would there be peace in Ireland there would be peace in other former, British partitioned colonies, such as Israel and  Palestine. And there are many similarities. Northern Ireland was created by Britain as a Protestant state for Protestant people surrounded by Catholics. Israel was created by the UN, primarily with the support of the United States as a Jewish State for Jewish people surrounded by Arabs .The Catholics did not want a Protestant State and the Arabs did not want a Jewish State. Both of these states call themselves democracies but became undemocratic toward Catholics and Arabs respectively which led to unjust societies. Both of these states rely on a super power for security, Britain for Northern Ireland and the United States for Israel.  There is a major difference. Northern Ireland is a UK province and the quarrelers are British citizens of one state. Obviously, the relationship between the US and Israel is not exactly the same but because of its unusual relationship with Israel, the US is in the same mess. This is about how Britain got in and out of its mess. I want you to pass it on.

The mess:  In 1965, students began demonstrating for British rights for British people. Under light pressure from Britain, the moderate Protestant administration proposed reform. Rev. Paisley and his supporters over responded and what started as a "struggle for justice" was taken over by radicals. In 1970 the British army, under pressure from Loyalists (radical Unionists), like Israel, chose a military solution. Like now, it was called a war against terrorism. Catholic areas were treated as IRA strong holds. Curfews were imposed, anyone on the streets could be shot at, thousands and thousands of homes were searched, armored cars with a high pitched whine maneuvered the narrowing streets while loud speakers on helicopters descended to roof level, doors were axed, floorboards ripped up, furniture unnecessarily tipped, Catholic religious imagery was destroyed, suspects interned without being charged and when charged spent as long as 10 years in prison waiting for a trial. Does this sound familiar?  The Gaza Strip and the West Bank is Northern Ireland all over again and the United States is in the same mess. The American army is not there, but we give Israeli three billion dollars a year for military defense. In effect, our surrogate is there. (I think our surrogates are going beyond defense.) In any event, the British military solution was a mistake. In 1965, when the students demonstrated for British rights the N.O. IRA was a Marxist discussion group, poorly armed and only minimally involved. Violence led to more violence. By 1969, when over 60,000 people, mostly Catholic, were forced out of their homes, the IRA was humiliated as "IRA-I Ran Away" graffiti appeared on scarred walls. This is not surprising. The ideology of the IRA is not a search for justice, especially British justice. Its ideology, going back to the early 19th century, was and still is, a united and republican Ireland and this means, "Brits out." I am not a fan of any militant group, whether it is Hamas or the Protestant militants or the IRA. They do evil things and many innocents suffer. The IRA, based upon a 1918 semi-plebiscite won by its political arm, created an unrecognized state and like its opposition, used force in the course of which it killed and maimed thousands, Catholic and Protestant, including many innocents. This is not a search for justice .But, every thing in life is not black and white or "with me or against met." Aided by the atrocious things that the British army was doing, the IRA took over the high road. Suddenly it was fighting for Catholic rights.  "Fellow Travelers" jumped on the band wagon. This led to more and more support, resulting in more and more arms and better and better organization. With its history, Britain should have known that in waging this kind of war, it was underestimating the IRA.  Instead of working on the justice issue, its war against terrorism revitalized an irreversible ideology. The policy was to treat them as criminals; they are hoodlums run by hoodlums. Hoodlums do not die in hunger strikes. It was the 1916 rebellion all over again. The death and injury toll, many of them innocents, was about 3,600 deaths and 40,000 injured. Extrapolated to the United States this amounts to about 360,000 deaths and about 4,000,000 injured. Most of this happened in the 25 years between 1970, when the war against the IRA started and 1985, the year we were in Northern Ireland and the year of the Anglo-Irish Agreement.

The path to peace:  The British military solution did not work.  You may not agree, but I think  because we cannot kill an ideology, especially if there is injustice. But, I am sure you agree with Colin Powell's rule that we should  not start a war we  cannot win.  And don't forget Viet Nam. And who one wants a 25 year war. But what you asked me was what the hell President Bush can do about it.  Sorry, I can't help you on that one. It took 33 years in Northern Ireland and it is still on the edge. Besides, the Northern Ireland solution was "power sharing" for one state, not an option for the Holy Land as all sides seem to be searching for two states, side by side. The Israel/Palestinian conflict is much more complicated than Northern Ireland. The Middle East has dozens of ideological extremist organizations. Instability in the Middle East is a severe threat to the world. Instability in Northern Ireland was not a severe threat. Who cares about that backwater of the western world.  But based on the Northern Ireland experience, please tell Mr. Bush that he can not rely on sending negotiators or arranging meetings of Foreign Secretaries. And, like Britain, get some other some independents involved: heavens to Betsy, the UN.  The Unionists did not want U.S. involved but it worked. And like Blair and Clinton (oops) he will have to be "hands on."  He will have to be more solidly behind his Secretary of State and tell some of his cabinet to lay back. President Bush does not need me to know that we have to have a cease fire (war delegitimizes politics) and we have to get all sides on the "political road."  Is it possible? Whether it is Sharon or Arafat, their respective support is, in part, driven by extremists who do not want peace because they do not want to compromise, particularly the ones that have all of the apples, e.g., Northern Ireland and Israel. It takes guts to take on the extremists. Some did in Northern Ireland and I think your man would be interested in this person who is not only a Conservative but, like your man, sees everything black and white. She did not hesitate in denying the hunger strikers demands as they went to death. In Northern Ireland "Nationalist" is soft and "Republican" is hard, but she had only one word, Republican. To stay in power, her party was dependent upon the Northern Ireland Protestant representation in Westminster yet, in 1985, she negotiated the Anglo-Irish Agreement. .It started the road to peace. It was a huge sea change. Britain acknowledged that Ireland had a junior right in governing Northern Ireland.  Ireland acknowledged that unification could not be imposed on the majority of Northern Ireland. The extremists went berserk but like all good compromises, the smart ones, like Adams and later, Trimble, saw an opening to reach their goals politically. This was not a joint policy statement after a barbecue at the ranch. This was an International Treaty registered at the United Nations.  No one, Mitchell or Hume or Trimble or Blair or the man whose name I will not mention, because it makes you sick, or anyone, could have negotiated the Good Friday Agreement if it were not for Margaret Thatcher.

Of course this conflict is different. Officially we do not have the power over Israel that Britain has over Northern Ireland, but the stakes are much higher and like Britain and the Irish Republic, it demands a major change in the policies of the U.S., the Arab world and like it or not, Israel and the Palestinians. And if we follow the path of Northern Ireland, it must be a treaty or something of the same significance. Like Margaret Thatcher, it will take guts. The Israel lobby and the religious right will not be happy  but peace can change things dramatically. Isn't it time for us to tell the Israeli Lobby  what to do instead of their telling us what to do? And the religious right; they believe that God gave the Jews the land.  George W. will have to explain to them that God has just gone out of the real estate business.  Reelection and votes are a problem. Tony Blair was very aggressive but Labor had won by a landslide and he did not, like his predecessors,  have to rely on the Northern Ireland vote to stay in power.  George W. did not win by a landslide and the religious right has lots of votes. But Margaret Thatcher had the same problem. She did the right thing and she stayed in office.

Please tell George not to worry. You know how much I want him reelected.  If he does the right thing I will vote for him. I will stop protesting and I will buy a cheap seat ticket to his next fund raiser.  Read my lips. And, the Northern Ireland experience can help. Now it is time for a metaphor.  The two major players, Britain and the Ireland, with support from the "you know" administration, took a big risk. They gave a "take it or leave it" peace plan to the quarreling sides, put a time limit on it  and, let it be know it would go to the people. The sides reluctantly accepted it. As you know, Jesus died on Good Friday but like Jesus, after the Good Friday Agreement something  supernatural happened. The people to whom it was submitted voted for the peace plan  by a landslide and the politicians were off the hook. I hope my dream comes true. Let the flags of the United States, Israel and Palestine fly and for good measure, let's throw in the Union Jack. We shall overcome, ..  Seamus.

My source: The Longest War, Mark Mulholland, Oxford University Press.