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Saturday, September 18, 2010

Mitchell's Northern Ireland obsession

Jackson Diehl reviews all the evidence that US Special Middle East envoy George Mitchell is still obsessed with his 'success' in resolving the ethnic conflict in Northern Ireland. Diehl then dismisses the Irish experience as irrelevant to what is currently going on in the Middle East. Mitchell is apparently assuming that Hamas will follow the path of Sinn Fein and the IRA and lay down their weapons.
So Hamas will follow the path of Sinn Fein and the IRA? That seems a bit of a stretch for a movement that two weeks ago proudly claimed credit for the murder of six Israeli civilians in the West Bank. Mitchell's observation about the leaders' embrace of serious issues also appears a little strained: After all, Israelis and Palestinians have already discussed those same issues in multiple sets of negotiations dating back to 1992 -- most of them involving Abbas, Netanyahu, or both. The problem has not been that they won't take on the issues, but that they have been chronically unable to bridge their differences on them.

Mitchell himself has taken to pointing out that "circumstances are very different" between the Middle East and Ireland and that "one must be careful about transferring principles," as he put it Wednesday. Yet he keeps doing it. I can't help but wonder if his memories of past glories are clouding his judgment of current events.
On the day Mitchell was appointed, I wrote a lengthy post indicating why the comparison with Northern Ireland is a bad one. That post included this:
This prophetic article from 2004 shows how the British (and Tony Blair in particular) have been trying to bring Northern Ireland-type 'conflict resolution' to the Israeli-Arab 'Palestinian' conflict and why all Israelis had better pray that it not work here. Here's the bottom line with some comments about why it's so bad for Israel interspersed.
The arguments for indulging insurgent, revolutionary movements are wonderfully flexible. In the first phase, the "oppressors" must indulge the "moderates." [That would be Fatah. CiJ] As time goes on, that changes to the "pragmatic hardliners," [Hamas. CiJ] who are the only faction that can deliver. There are vague echoes here of the mission of Alistair Crooke, the former MI6 officer who served in Northern Ireland and who has been seeking to bring Hamas into the fold as the only people who can "deliver" on a settlement. Judging by past form, future British and EU diplomatic efforts may focus increasingly upon influencing the less "ideological" element within Likud [That would be Kadima. This was written a year before Kadima broke off from the Likud. CiJ]. Many British officials see Hamas and Likud as mutually reinforcing "hardliners."

A key theme in this mindset is that there can be no purely military defeat of insurgents [Is this why Israel was pressured not to finish the job in Gaza? CiJ]. If this is true, then one has to make a massive number of political concessions. Some of the more robust elements within the British system believe that the Royal Ulster Constabulary, the police force which was at the cutting edge of the struggle against terrorism, was stopping between 7 and 8, and in some cases even 9 out of 10 IRA operations during the latter years of the Troubles. Indeed, year by year we learn just how riddled the IRA was with British informers [Just like Israel has put an almost total stop to 'Palestinian' terror originating in Judea and Samaria since 2003. CiJ]. But notwithstanding that achievement, the British government decided to give disproportionate political concessions to ensure that the IRA never had "an excuse" to go back to armed struggle. In other words, they believe that the IRA, like the Palestinians, has a great number of very good excuses to go back "to war." That process, of depriving the insurgents of "excuses," inevitably comes at the expense of Unionists and the Israelis.

But what is the definition of victory in Northern Ireland? The British do not define "victory" as the military defeat of the IRA. Firstly, they do not believe it was possible, but even if it was possible, they do not believe in such a defeat as a matter of principle. Victory, as far as they see it in Northern Ireland, is to persuade Sinn Fein/IRA to accept the use of democratic methods. In other words, they have a methodological definition of victory, but have no particular end point of a settlement in mind (which reinforces instability by convincing Republicans that "one last heave," whether politically or militarily, will do the trick).

Indeed, one unique aspect of policy in Northern Ireland is that the British state is well-nigh unique in advertising, quite openly, that it does not really mind if it is dismembered - subject, of course, to the consent principle. All it wants is that the IRA and the Republican movement - in the main - abandon full-scale violence, and then all other roads are open. To ensure that abandonment of violence, the British will maintain the pace of concessions, at least for as long as the Unionists are prepared to tolerate them. And because the British have been working on the Unionist community for so long, they reckon that they have a very good chance of maintaining that grip on events.
This all sounds familiar, doesn't it? If it doesn't, I think I have pointed out enough striking similarities for you. Do we really want Israel dismembered?
Let's hope that Mitchell keeps beating his head against the wall until he gives up. The real reason he's not succeeding is that so far - at least - Israel still has a survival instinct. Israel Radio reported on Saturday night that there is 'still no agreement' on extending the 'settlement freeze.'


At 4:24 AM, Blogger NormanF said...

These are asymmetric negotiations. Israel is expected to make massive unilateral concessions in exchange for verbal Palestinian pledges that never carried out. We've seen this script before played out and it always ends badly.

"Peace at ANY price" is not a good deal.

No matter how much George Mitchell wants to push Israel into making it.


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