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Northern Ireland and Palestine

Later in the same article I referred to earlier, Steve Clemons vastly exaggerates the importance of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict:

President Obama should not have let George Mitchell resign because he could have used Mitchell to repeat the same hackneyed, achieve zilch phrases that Obama himself raised in this speech. Obama, like Mitchell, made reference to the achievement of peace in Northern Ireland — which took eons to achieve.

The President needs to be told that this is a lame, counter-productive, irrational comparison to Israel-Palestine. Northern Ireland terrorism and political disruption could have continued another three hundred years and the world could endure it, moving past the tragedies and occasional loss of life. In the scheme of global affairs, Northern Ireland’s problems were a boutique problem that didn’t resonate globally.

Israel-Palestine tension in contrast comprises one of the world’s serious fault lines. Explosions there have dramatic echo effects that do matter globally.

Of course, the world could “endure” the continuation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. That doesn’t mean that it should be allowed to continue. The world has “endured” more than forty years of it in its present form. What the world can or cannot “endure” is one thing, and what is in the best interests of the two nations is something else, but proponents of a negotiated settlement aren’t helping matters by insisting on the conflict’s enormous global significance. I won’t deny that the conflict is a serious aggravating factor in regional politics, and its continuation does negatively affect U.S. interests, but if we are honest we have to admit that it is simply not that important of a conflict. How many “dramatic echo effects” have there actually been? Might it not be easier to reach a negotiated settlement if the conflict were not artificially invested with significance that it doesn’t have?

Last year I considered why this conflict receives so much more attention than other comparable conflicts:

The conflict is not actually all that important, but the constant attention it receives has made it strategically important for reasons that have nothing to do with the establishment of a Palestinian state or the delineation of borders. One of the reasons for the fixation on this conflict is that at least some Westerners take tremendous interest in supporting Israel. As they have focused more of their attention on the conflict, others have done the same.

The comparison with Northern Ireland isn’t terribly helpful, but not for the reasons Clemons gives. It’s debatable whether Northern Ireland was a “boutique” problem. At least in America, it was a conflict that resonated quite a lot. The “peace process” there didn’t take “eons.” Once it started in earnest, it had produced a negotiated agreement in approximately one decade. The main reason that comparisons between Northern Ireland and Palestine don’t hold up very well is that in the case of Northern Ireland there was considerable political pressure on the U.S.-allied government coming from Washington in favor of the republican side. Most of Clemons’ article is an extended complaint that there is absolutely no chance of similar pressure being put on Israel to reach a settlement, and he’s right about that. Northern Ireland is not a very instructive example for how an Israeli-Palestinian negotiated settlement might be worked out, because in the end the peace agreement mainly involved political integration and disarmament.

Clemons continues:

The Saudis, Jordanians, Russians, French, Americans, even the Egyptians I think, the Brazilians, the Turks, the British and Germans want and need peace between Israel and Palestine more than many inside these societies want.

Whether they want peace more than many Israelis and Palestinians, which I doubt, it is just not true to say that these other nations need it more. Obviously, the two nations that need a peaceful resolution of their conflict more than any others are the two engaged in the conflict.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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