Saturday, May 12, 2007

Irish peace

A historic agreement took place this week in Northern Ireland between the republican party Sinn Fein, led by Martin McGuiness, and the loyalist Democratic Unionist Party, led by Ian Paisley. They both accepted a compromise that allowed devolution of sovereignty from the British Parliament in London to the Northern Ireland Parliament at Stormont. It was amazing to see these two former staunch enemies sitting side by side and smiling.
Although this is not the final end of the Irish conflict, it marks the first peaceful resolution of the struggle for Irish freedom that has taken 90 years from the Easter uprising of 1916 to 2007. The agreement this week resulted from the Good Friday agreement of 1998 that first required the IRA to lay down their weapons and the DUP accepted a role for the Irish Republic in the development of Northern Ireland, while it remains a part of the UK. Now a new era of peaceful development can begin. This agreement owes a lot to the persistance of PM Blair and is an appropriate success for him on his retirement.
A suitable background to the acknowledgement of this process is the recent movie "The wind that shakes the barley," which is an authentic dramatic documentary of the terrible path of Irish history. This shows the brutality of the English and the tragic civil war that engulfed Ireland after the agreement to form the Irish Free State in 1922 was rejected by a large proportion of the IRA. The internecine conflict that followed persisted until 1937 when the sovereign Republic of Ireland (Eire) was formed, and "the troubles" engulfed Northern Ireland in the 1960s-80s so that any peaceful agreement seemed impossible. Now not only is Ireland finally at peace, but it is also very prosperous, having gone from being a backward agrarian society to a modern affluent culture in a very short time.
Those of us who have supported the existence of the sovereign Jewish State of Israel can take some comfort from the Irish example. But, here we have several major complications, first, we are surrounded by a phalanx of Arab/Muslim countries that support the other side (it would be as if an alliance of Catholic countries supported the Irish Catholics). Second, the nature of Islam makes the conflict here well nigh intractable. Finally, the Palestinian side is split between many factions and the moderates are very much a minority. In fact, on Thursday FM Tzipi Livni met in Cairo with the Egyptian and Jordanian FMs who presented the Arab/Saudi peace plan initiative. However, one hopes she told them that the plan as it stands, a take it or leave it dictate by the Arabs, is unacceptable to Israel, particularly with the clauses of "right of return" and withdrawal to the pre-June 1967 lines included.
While no suitable compromise appears on the horizon now for the Israel-Palestine conflict, and although we are threatened by another round of warfare by Iran and its proxies, the Irish agreement gives hope that in time even a tortuous conflict such as ours can be resolved.


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