Monday, 24 January 2011

Israel could learn a lesson from Northern Ireland.

Israel is a powerful state and with the USA firmly behind them can, if they wish, continue to live as they are for as long as they like. Yes, there is always a significant threat from attack and there is substantial security in their everyday lives. For most Israelis though, it is a price they gladly pay. For Palestinians, however, they live under consistent dominance from those who mistrust them and as such, will continue to fight for as long as they can. Both sides are determined. While these attitudes prevail, progress can never be made and so, for a real and lasting peace, the attitude must change.

The problem is that in Israel, as previously in Northern Ireland, moral absolutes and history rule the day. For Israel, Palestinians are terrorists, for Palestinians, Israel are oppressors. Both are true and both are false. In truth, it is far too complex to define it so simply. The multitude of books, research and discussions that have been read, carried out and held on the subject are evidence of this. When talks begin with the noble aim of finding a compromise, they invariably descend into a competition to see who has committed the worse crimes.

Northern Ireland eventually came to peace because a few politicians were brave enough to stand up to their own communities and treat the other side as equals, forgetting (for the sake of negotiations) the horror of the past and each sides complicity in that horror. They started the task of conciliation with no moral absolutes and found that if you could treat the man across from you as a valid representative of a community that wishes peace and prosperity and not as a murderer, then negotiations can progress. Yes, there will always be differences and yes, there will often be points reached that can't be countered. The key is to consider those points based on genuine merit and not on prejudice.

It was a shame the RUC had to lose it's name and symbols, but was it not more important to have the Police endorsed by the Nationalist community? Looking objectively, it is blindingly clear it was a price worth paying. It was only achieved by a change in attitude that took the perspective of the other side into consideration.

Israel are not prepared to do this and neither are the Palestinians but they should and Israel should take the lead. They are a nation state and while they enjoy the balance of power, they should also take the responsibility to lead the way forward for the benefit of the region. They have to rise above Palestinian terrorists and claim the moral high ground. Reign in the IDF and don't allow them to play at the same level as the terror groups. When your child breaks something of yours, you don't go to their room and break their favourite toys as punishment. You set the example.

Here in Northern Ireland, those within the republican community that still shout about British injustice sound, to the majority, ridiculous. Yes, there was injustice but it has been addressed and we have moved on. Consequently there is little support for violent action because it cannot be argued to be justified. If Israel really wish to create a breakthrough and move toward a secure society and not remain a security state then they should look this way.

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