Achieving genuine conflict resolution requires a dedicated approach that incorporates building trust and relationships between communities from opposing sides of a deeply divided society. Learning to understand the necessary stages required for a fruitful peace process is just one way Israelis and Palestinians can take serious lessons away from the Northern Ireland experience.
Israeli and Palestinian flags are frequently seen flying in Northern Ireland, often in loyalist and republican areas respectively. This is symbolic of how even in a place that has seen 15 years of a peace process, divides still exist to the extent that some communities take sides in the conflict of another in slight continuation of their own.
Be wary when comparing “The Troubles” in Northern Ireland to the situation in Israel/Palestine, especially when it gives opportunity to public figures such as Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations Ron Prosor to disingenuously proclaim a desire to export lessons from the Northern Irish peace process (his loud exclamations that “We [Israel] can learn from Ulster” are just another form of propaganda to sooth the international community).
A major aspect to building peace is in finding a way for communities to reconcile differences whilst holding on to one’s own identities whilst respecting ‘the others’ opposing identity and ideas for the future.
The push for a genuine reconciliation has to adhere closely to the ideal of fairness and look at how people can deal with the memories and legacies of the past.
Having defined structures for delivering equal justice is key, which is why a continuous, flowing discussion is necessary when it comes to finding a civil pathway to peace (as Haggai Matar noted in his recent piece on Northern Ireland).
Two important points stand out in Haggai’s piece: the first is the acceptance that “no two conflicts are alike,” and the second is the emphasis on realizing that “a solution that fits one conflict could never be copied successfully to anywhere else.”
True peace and reconciliation comes from people as human beings feeling valued, respected and dignified. If there is no genuine relationship and respect among the parties involved then the situation isn’t going to get anywhere and achieving peace remains little more than a fantasy.
Thus, in order to reach genuine peace, a set of basic rules and stages is required. A recent article from Quintin Oliver, a man who helped run a non-party ‘YES’ Campaign in the 1998 Referendum on the Good Friday Agreement, illustrates this in his fifteen laws of peace processes.
Whilst Oliver’s laws discuss Northern Ireland, I find some points give an inkling as to what may be lacking in Israel today;
1. Citizenship should be clarified and open to all. Those under Israel’s direct control are not all afforded the right to citizenship, and therefore to democratic participation and other benefits that come with it. Palestinians and Israelis must be free to make and exercise their own choices with relation to citizenship and national self-determination within either Palestine, Israel or both.
2. Security must be guaranteed for all, without fear or partiality. Achieving a stable situation is desired in order to bring about an end to violence. Confidence among communities can only increase when Israel and Palestine reach a consensus on the primacy of evenhanded application of security, where both parties can be trusted with ensuring a commitment to one another’s safety and rights.
3. Interpretation and implementation of the law must be assured through an independent judiciary. There cannot be room for a politicized application of the law, as this will only deepen the sense of injustice towards those who are being or perceive themselves to be oppressed by structural discrimination.
4. Truth will always vie with justice as we try to understand what happened to us. A robust process of managing and dealing with the past is essential. Justice however may not always fit well given that perceptions differ greatly among many truths which manifest in a conflict.
5. Armed groups must be subject to full disarmament, disbandment and reintegration. All Palestinian and Israeli armed groups must agree to an internationally observed decommissioning. This must be followed by an agreement to lift the siege on Gaza and an Israeli military withdrawal from the West Bank. Undoubtedly there will be resistance to this particular point but this bold step for peace must be taken.
6. International and external forces must be eased out of the day-to-day decision-making. Though important in order to kick start the first stages of a peace process, there must be space for standalone interaction as over-dependence on international actors, some of which provide dishonest brokerage, has given Israel ample opportunity to continue its occupation 20 years after the Oslo Accords were signed.
7. All legal voices must be included, so as to absorb their political views appropriately or else you will remain dependent on a military solution. A solution cannot simply involve the Palestinian Authority alone. There needs to be inclusivity, and the question one must always ask is whether the voiceless are being heard.
8. Societal infrastructure must be based on equality and sharing, or risk intensifying division. If the Israeli government and some Palestinian groups continue to institutionalize discrimination using the education system, public transport, housing, teacher training, arts and sports then division will remain in both societies.
9. A free press which would hold the powerful to account without interference is self-evident. The need for a critical and proactive approach within Israel to push creative policy development is obvious. Israeli society seems dominated by nationalist discourse propagated by the government. Furthermore, there is a need for freedom to criticize the Palestinian Authority and Hamas on legitimate issues affecting the areas under their control.
10. Each party to the conflict must be afforded the right to argue for its own vision of the future with impunity. There are still political groups that advocate the destruction of Northern Ireland as an entity, and yet there has been an end to violence, discrimination, checkpoints etc. A strong desire to end conflict on all levels must be expressed by all sides. Israel requires a fundamental societal shift to achieve circumstances in which other visions are given space for peaceful expression. Of course, the advocation of hatred, murder and other crimes must not be ignored.
11. Your side hates our side much more and has done/continues to do much worse things than we do. An overwhelming majority in Israel perceive Palestinians as violent and perpetual aggressors. Some examples of violence cited contribute to a selective memory and a level of unhealthy denialism. Existence of two or more disparate sides means that recognition for different roles played by Israel and Palestinians is essential. Regardless of the imbalanced conflict, victims of violence deserve justice. A careful definition of ‘violence’ is required in order to make progress in this area.
12. Policing must be seen to be fair and reliable. One of the largest problems in conflict occurs when those enforcing the law, be it civilian or military do so without any equal application or human-rights compliance. When parity in the treatment of Israeli and a Palestinian suspects by police and military officers disappears because of institutional discrimination towards the later it compounds the issues.
13. A vibrant civil society must be enabled and dissent encouraged. The sign of any true democracy is the ability to allow differing political ideas to be presented in a pluralist way. If a government actively discourages nonviolent dissent or punishes civil society for crying out then it isn’t a real democracy but rather an oppressive state.
These necessary stages must be adhered to for a fruitful peace process. Lord John Alderdice highlights this concisely in his address to the United Nations General Assembly on the 13th of September 2012;
“The key element in building trust, achieving agreement, ending violence, and eventually contributing to reconciliation is the construction of a process through which by direct engagement with each other, the two or more, sides begin to see ‘the Others’ as human beings who have their positive as well as negative elements. If you treat others as less human than you and your people they will feel able to treat you and your people as less than human too.”
If civil society demands a peace process that adheres to the above ground rules, rather than skipping essential stages, we can remain optimistic about achieving peace between Israel and Palestine.
A shorter version of this article first appeared on +972 Magazine and can be found here.