Thursday, June 09, 2005

More on Not Negotiating With Terrorism

The Social Affairs Unit is a very smart and funny Brit site. I don't usually do big pastes but this is too good to summarize - it's the best analysis I've seen of the train wreck in Northern Ireland. By Joyce Lee Malcolm, an American historian:

The 2005 general election results in Northern Ireland were disastrous for the more moderate parties. The Ulster Unionist Party lost 5 of its 6 seats. The SDLP managed to win 3 seats - the same number of seats it had won in 2001 - but also lost substantial ground from 2001 in terms of its share of the vote.

Joyce Lee Malcolm - Professor of History at Bentley College - offers a US perspective on this outcome and argues that the vote of the moderate parties fell as a direct result of successive British government's mollycoddling of Sinn Fein/IRA.

Game's over, and the Irish people have lost. For the past decade the British and Irish governments have been playing "let's pretend" in Northern Ireland. While neither government would ever admit to doing deals with terrorists, they pretended that the Irish Republican Army - folks known for blowing up fish-and-chip shops and shooting opponents in the knees - were not at the bargaining table or eligible to be included in a future government, and could even be coaxed to go straight, to lay down their guns and achieve their aims peacefully.

That approach might be excused as pragmatism or wishful thinking and did lead to an IRA cease-fire of sorts. But then there was the little matter of Sinn Fein, the IRA's political shills, the folks who did sit at the negotiating table and were to play a leading role in future Northern Ireland ministries. Although most Sinn Fein leaders were, and still are, leaders of the IRA, everyone was supposed to pretend Sinn Fein were an ordinary political party, prepared to rely on the ballot, not the bullet or the threat of the bullet. What's the harm in a little pretence for the greater good? And concessions might work wonders.

In fact concessions did work wonders. Nearly every aspect of the Good Friday Agreement of 1998, passed with such high hopes by the people of Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic, was put in place. Each group and government went through with the often painful concessions they had pledged, a sacrifice in return for peace and power-sharing. The Irish Republic changed its constitution, IRA prisoners were released, the Royal Ulster Constabulary was dismantled and its Special Branch destroyed, Sinn Fein was given key ministerial posts, and the British left.

Every group carried out its pledge except - surprise, surprise - the IRA. Their ceasefire continued, but their promise to disarm and disband never happened. When Protestants became upset over this duplicity, the governments made much of vague IRA promises "to begin decommissioning" - calling it disarming would give offence. When continual promises failed to yield results, the IRA made gestures. But only gestures.

The rest of this excellent analysis is here. I do hope that the Bush administration knows all about this & is discounting the advice of the Brits on Hamas.