Last week's dramatic meeting between two Irish leaders was the sort of
thing no one imagined possible.
Rev. Ian Paisley, the fearsome octogenarian tribune of Northern Ireland
Protestants, and Gerry Adams, the leader of Sinn Fein, the political
arm of the terrorist Provisional Irish Republican Army, sat down in
Belfast to make peace. Though it has been nine years since the IRA
first agreed to a cease-fire and to participate in a constitutional
process to determine the future of six of the counties of the province
of Ulster, the willingness of these two extremists to talk seems to
herald the final stage of the Irish peace process.
The scene was, in its own way, every bit as incredible as the dramatic
Oslo peace accord signing on the White House Lawn in September 1993,
when an equally unlikely pairing of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat
and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.
DREAMS OF PEACE
Just as that event spawned hope not just for the Middle East but
elsewhere as well, the Belfast meeting has encouraged every dewy-eyed
dreamer of peace to think big. After all, if Paisley the implacable "Dr. No" of Ulster can make nice with the IRA, surely anything is possible.
That's just what observers of the Middle East are saying this week as
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice appears to have abandoned the
Bush administration's prior unwillingness to strong-arm Israel to make
concessions to the Arabs. So when, among others, Philadelphia Inquirer
columnist Trudy Rubin wrote to make an analogy between Ireland and the
Mideast this week, her agenda was to help build support for such a
policy of pressure on Israel.
Since so many are fixated on the Irish breakthrough and its relevance
to the Middle East, it's worth taking the time to analyze that
situation and to see just how misleading this analogy can be.
Unlike the Israeli-Arab stand-off, where one side (the Palestinians)
still refuses to accept the legitimacy of their opponents' existence as
a separate state, the historic acceptance of a two-state solution in
Ireland happened 85 years ago, not last week.
In 1922, Britain finally gave up its fight to hold on to all of
Ireland, and agreed to terms with the leadership of the Irish
republican movement that had been waging a guerrilla war against them.
Irish leader Michael Collins achieved independence for the people of
Ireland after 700 years of British rule. But he had to pay a bitter
price for it.
Collins had to concede that six of Ireland's 32 counties with
Protestant majorities would stay with Britain, as the majority of those
who lived in Ulster had always wanted. But, like the Palestinians who
have spurned offers of as much as a state in all of the West Bank and
even a share of Jerusalem, some of Collins' colleagues opposed the deal.
The result was the Irish civil war that pitted Collins' "Free-Staters,"
who accepted the peace with Britain, against a rump of the IRA, who
would accept nothing less than a united Ireland. With the support of
the overwhelming majority of the Irish people, the Free-Staters won the
war, though Collins was assassinated. Collins' antagonists later won
control of Ireland via elections, though no Irish government has ever
attempted to undo the treaty and conquer Ulster.
Since 1922, the conflict has been about whether or not a portion of
Ireland the majority of whose inhabitants do not wish to sever their allegiance to Britain would be compelled to do so.
Though the Catholic minority in Northern Ireland may have had
legitimate grievances against the Protestant majority, the goal of the
Provisional IRA and its political wing Sinn Fein was to forcibly absorb
all of Ulster into the Irish Republic.
Their campaign of terror to achieve this end was opposed by the
majority of the population of Northern Ireland, as well as by the
majority of Catholics in the independent south. Yet with Northern Irish
Catholics as sick of the bloodshed as their Protestant rivals, and with
both Britain and the Irish Republic united in their opposition to
terror, the "provos" finally gave up in 1998. Resuming a terrorist war
simply isn't an option for the IRA or Paisley's own ultras.
The contrast between this scenario and the one facing Israel and the Palestinians couldn't be clearer.
Unlike the Irish, who agreed to a historic partition for peace, the
Palestinians have yet to meaningfully do so, despite the plethora of
peace deals that Israeli leaders have signed with them in the last 14
WHERE IS THEIR COLLINS?
Some may have thought that Arafat was the Palestinian Michael Collins,
a leader willing to risk his life in order to secure peace through
compromise with his foes and a willingness to face down his own
extremists, but that was never in the cards. The notion that Hamas
might take such a step is laughable.
Hamas is based in an extremist faith, not a belief in secular
self-determination like Irish republicanism. Their oft-stated goal is
simply the destruction of the State of Israel. Were they, or their more
secular rivals in Fatah, merely interested in Palestinian statehood,
they could have achieved that a long time ago.
Conversely, the Irish never begrudged the right of the British to rule
Britain; they just wanted them out of Ireland. The Arabs still oppose
the existence of Israel within any borders, including the cease-fire
lines of 1949. Their war against the Jews predates the "occupation" of
1967. Israel has always been willing to compromise. Their acceptance of
numerous partition plans through the years that were repudiated by the
Arabs proves this.
Even more significantly, for all of the bitterness and hatred that kept
the "troubles" boiling so long, there is no comparing the cultures of
either side in Ireland to the eliminationist mentality of the
Palestinians. Theirs is a culture based on the delegitimization of
Israel and the Jews, not an agenda of national revival.
Even the "Saudi plan" includes a provision calling for the "return" of
Palestinian refugees to Israel. That is tantamount to mandating the end
of the Jewish state. Even if the Israelis desperate not to allow any daylight between themselves and the Americans say it can be
discussed, it is no path to peace.
The Palestinians already have their Paisleys and Adamses. But until
they find their Michael Collins or, more importantly, create a
culture that might produce one there will be no such thing as peace, no matter how often Condi Rice shuttles between Ramallah and Jerusalem.
As long as outsiders encourage the Palestinians in their madness
something the Rice-backed Saudi plan seems to be doing a day of peace for Israel such as the one the Irish now celebrate, will be put off even further.