Talking to Terrorists: The Myths, Misconceptions and Misapplication of the Northern Ireland Peace Process

John Patrick Arthur Bew, Martyn Frampton

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It has become fashionable to look to the lessons of the peace process in Northern Ireland as holding insights for other areas of conflict in the world. However, this has been done in an uncritical way, often more focused on contemporary agendas than on the core realities unique to the region, which do not necessarily translate elsewhere.

In some instances, the willingness of a state to negotiate might encourage the terrorists to believe that their opponents are ready to concede – even when this is not the case. In June-July 1972, for example, top IRA operatives were flown to London in order to meet senior British politicians, leading the IRA to believe its violent campaign had forced the British to the negotiating table. After the talks failed, on 21 July 1972, the IRA exploded 22 bombs in Belfast in the space of 75 minutes – killing 9 and injuring another 130 on what became known as “Bloody Friday.”

By the late 1980s and early 1990s, the Republic of Ireland had become a force for stability and peace in Northern Ireland and worked in close cooperation with the British government in the search for a settlement. The same cannot be said of Israel’s neighbors. On the contrary, Iran and Syriacontinue to support Hamas and encourage its violent campaign, offering it arms, funding, training, and sanctuary.

For the British government, formal negotiations with the IRA could only occur in a context in which republican violence had been brought to an end. With the IRA in a position of declining military and political fortunes, it sought to extricate itself via the peace process. The perception of the republican leadership had become – rightly – that IRA violence had held back the political prospects of Sinn Fein.

The aims of the IRA posed no existential threat to the British. This is not the case where Israel and Hamas are concerned, however. The objectives of Hamas require the destruction of the State of Israel. Moreover, whereas the political goals of the IRA were confined locally to the future of the island of Ireland, Hamas, by its own admission, is part of a global Islamist movement, known as the Muslim Brotherhood. Thus, diplomatic engagement with Hamas has broader international implications.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJerusalem Viewpoints
Issue number556
Publication statusPublished - 17 Jul 2008


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