When is Hamas not like the IRA?
Two British scholars authored a report questioning the position of Peter Haim, a Labor former secretary of state for Northern Ireland who in 2007 proposed Northern Ireland as a "model for conflict resolution," and others.
In response to frequent references to Northern Ireland as a model for peace in the Middle East, two British researchers last week released an analysis of the conflicts in which they reject the comparison and warn against turning dialogue without preconditions into a "fetish."
The report was written by Cambridge historians Drs. John Bew and Martyn Frampton for the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, a think-tank headed by Israel's former ambassador to the UN, Dore Gold. It was released just days after British Prime Minister Gordon Brown's visit to Israel, in which he urged the Knesset to do "as we did in Northern Ireland."
Last year the British Army ended its mission in Northern Ireland following talks between London and the Irish Republican Army, a militant group that championed the use of violence to achieve its goal of separation from the U.K. The process began in 1994 with several cease-fires which broke down and were renewed.
The 20-page report questions the position of Peter Haim, a Labor former secretary of state for Northern Ireland who in 2007 proposed Northern Ireland as a "model for conflict resolution," and others.
In "Talking to Terrorists: The Myths, Misconceptions and Misapplication of the Northern Ireland Peace Process," Bew and Frampton argue that the analogy between Northern Ireland and other conflict is "often more focused on contemporary agendas than on the core realities unique to the region, which do not necessarily translate elsewhere." They take particular exception to those who point to Britain's agreement to talks with the IRA to argue in favor of talking to Hamas without preconditions. "The notion of talking to one's enemies... has been fetishized by many from across the political spectrum."
But while rejecting the Hamas-IRA comparison the authors use the example of Northern Ireland themselves to warn against the dangers of talking to organizations like Hamas. They cite London's consent to talks with top IRA operatives in 1972 as having led the organization "to believe its violent campaign had forced the British to the negotiating table" and to stage the Bloody Friday attack that killed nine and injured 130.
"A major difference between the IRA and is that the latter did not generally target civilians, considering them collateral damage, whereas Hamas generally only seeks to target civilians when it can," Ashley Perry, the British-born editor of the center's Middle East Strategic Information project, told AngloFile.
Bew and Frampton contrast the IRA's failure to dominate internal rivals with Hamas' triumph over Fatah. They argue that while the IRA's talks with London followed a decline in the Irish Republicans' power, Hamas sees itself as "riding the crest of a wave."
The authors say the key variables in Northern Ireland were not the act of talking to terrorists but rather its context, including the timing, the motivations and its role in a wider strategy.