The Jerusalem Post, November, 20 2001


By Evelyn Gordon

It is still too early to proclaim the Northern Ireland peace process a success, but with David Trimble's narrow reelection as first minister earlier this month, it appears to be back on track.

The greatest optimist could not say the same of the Israeli-Palestinian process. For this, most Israelis justly blame Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat. Yet the Irish example raises a troubling possibility: that despite Arafat's bad faith, different behavior by Israel and the international community could have produced a different outcome.

Northern Ireland's Good Friday Agreement was signed in 1998. It called for a gradual withdrawal of British troops from Ulster, which was implemented; a new government in which Catholics would share power, also implemented; a cease-fire, which the Irish Republican Army honored; and disarmament of all paramilitary organizations - a clause the IRA defiantly ignored.

Initially, the Ulster Unionists tolerated this behavior. But after several disarmament deadlines were missed, the Unionists put their foot down. Even though the arms were not being used, they said, they were no longer willing to participate in a process that the other side was flouting. Trimble backed up this threat by resigning this summer, with other Unionist ministers following later to keep the pressure on. The international community strongly supported them, blaming the imminent breakdown of the process squarely on the IRA. And three weeks ago, the IRA gave in and began decommissioning its arms.

The 1993 Oslo Accord was in many ways similar. It called for gradual Israeli withdrawals from the West Bank and Gaza, establishment of an autonomous Palestinian government, an end to Palestinian terror attacks, and various measures to achieve this latter goal, including the arrest and extradition of terrorists, a clampdown on incitement and the disarmament of all paramilitary groups except official Palestinian security services.

As in Northern Ireland, the ruling party soon began implementing its commitments: Israel carried out four withdrawals, in 1994, 1995, 1997 and 1998-99; gave the Palestinian government elected in 1996 full control over the areas it left and civilian control over most of the rest of the West Bank; and finally offered most of the remaining territory, including eastern Jerusalem, in 2000-2001 (an offer the Palestinians rejected).

As in Ireland, the insurgent party ducked on disarmament: The Palestinian Authority refused to disarm groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad, or to carry out its other anti-terror responsibilities (arrests, extraditions, preventing incitement).

There were, however, two major differences. First, unlike the IRA, the Palestinians never honored the cease-fire. In fact, more Israelis were killed by Palestinian terror in the five years after Oslo was signed than in the preceding 15 years.

Second, in sharp contrast to the Unionists - who took only three years to conclude that, despite the successful cease-fire, the time had come to insist that the IRA fulfill its remaining obligations - no Israeli government ever conditioned withdrawals or further negotiations even on fulfillment of the cease-fire, much less on fulfillment of other Palestinian commitments such as disarmament. Some governments, such as that of Yitzhak Rabin, simply pretended that the violations did not exist; others, such as that of Binyamin Netanyahu, railed against the violations but transferred land anyway. But in eight years, no Israeli government ever insisted that PA compliance was necessary for further progress.

And the international community compounded this error: In contrast to its support for Trimble's determined stance on IRA compliance, it exerted mammoth pressure on Israel to continue land transfers despite the far more severe Palestinian violations. The world even actively collaborated in whitewashing these violations. The US State Department, for instance, formally certified the PA as being in compliance every six months, even though not a single PA commitment had, in fact, been met.

The PA, therefore, faced no pressure from either Israel or the world, with the unsurprising result that its violations became ever more flagrant, culminating in the past year's bloody intifada - which so shattered Israelis' belief in Palestinian good faith that the process may well be beyond resurrection.

It is quite possible that no amount of pressure could achieve PA compliance. But the Irish example shows that sometimes, such pressure is effective.

Unfortunately, it seems that neither Israel nor the world has yet grasped this truth: Both the new initiative planned by Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and the one being launched by the US this week reportedly include new concessions to Arafat. Until the Irish lesson is learned, any diplomatic process will be doomed to failure.

2001 The Jerusalem Post

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