Hamas isn't the IRA, and the Middle East isn't Northern Ireland.

Opinions about events beyond our borders.
Sept. 17 2010 7:26 AM

Hamas Isn't the IRA

And when it comes to the peace process, the Middle East isn't Northern Ireland.

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So what would the Hamas equivalent of this scenario look like? At the very least, another devastating war with Israel would need to occur, leaving the Islamists completely depleted and certainly not in sole administrative control of Gaza. Targeted assassinations would likely be renewed. Israeli intelligence operatives would thoroughly penetrate Hamas' command structure, so as to be able to predict and pre-empt almost every rocket fired into Ashkelon or Sderot or every attack on settlers in the West Bank. Hamas would then have to concede that its strategic long-war doctrine of violent "resistance" and its dream of establishing Greater Palestine was a fantasy, which would mean no more statements like this one from Hamas co-founder Mahmoud Al-Zahar, issued on June 15, 2010: "Our ultimate plan is [to have] Palestine in its entirety. I say this loud and clear so that nobody will accuse me of employing political tactics."

George Mitchell's involvement in Northern Ireland is similarly misread when it comes to gauging prospects for legitimizing Hamas now that he is President Barack Obama's special Mideast envoy. Mitchell went to Northern Ireland in 1995 as part of a three-man team designed to supervise the decommissioning of weapons—itself indicative of his early role as the enforcer of the Anglo-British "bottom line." In January 1996, his team produced a report that concluded the IRA was not going to disarm before joining the peace process. Their nonradical solution? Force the organization to disarm when it joined the peace process. The six Mitchell Principles, to which all parties to negotiations had to pledge their total commitment before they were admitted to the table, included agreeing to democratic and peaceful means of resolution, total disarmament subject to independent verification, the renunciation of force, the end of "punishment" killings and beatings, and respect for the outcome of peace negotiations, whatever form it may take.

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Built atop this solid foundation, the Good Friday Agreement of 1998, which enshrined a democratic power-sharing arrangement for Northern Ireland, constituted the "triumph of moderation over extremism," to quote one of the agreement's key architects, Protestant unionist David Trimble. British Prime Minister Tony Blair's success was to make the starting point for these negotiations "sufficient consent," meaning that a settlement was reachable with the support of the British and Irish governments and a majority of unionists  and a majority of nationalists, as determined by popular referendum. Ian Paisley's Democratic Unionist Party and Gerry Adams' Sinn Fein, neither of which ever had commanding majorities in their constituencies, could be left out entirely and had no veto power over the resulting accord. In fact, the DUP opposed the deal, and Sinn Fein didn't sign off on it until the very end, by which point all the heavy lifting had been done by Trimble's Ulster Unionists and John Hume's Social Democratic and Labour Party. This is why Trimble and Hume won the Nobel Peace Prize, and hard-core Irish republicans to this day refer to the Good Friday Agreement as the "Got Fuck All" agreement.

True, by May 2007, after a decade of fitful implementation of the accord, particularly concerning the ever-nettlesome question of decommissioning, as well as London's renewed emphasis on incorporating the extremists, the leaders of Northern Ireland's power-sharing government wound up being Gerry Adams and Ian Paisley. But by this point, these men had been forced into a political architecture that neither especially wanted 10 years before and which, regardless of how they may mug for posterity, they had no part in assembling.

"The only 'good example' the Americans saw from the Northern Ireland conflict," writes Henry McDonald in his seminal history Gunsmoke and Mirrors: How Sinn Fein Dressed Up Defeat as Victory, "was the one that Britain used to close down the IRA's armed campaign."

Hamas legitimizers who use the "Ulster Model" are therefore asking Israel to get tougher on terrorism before inviting its sworn enemy to the table, at which its presence isn't even required. And the underlying irony in their amnesiac use of recent history is that there already exists a Palestinian organization that has exchanged extremism for moderation and reluctantly buckled to Israeli demands for meeting certain nonnegotiable criteria, such as recognizing Israel's right to exist. It's called the PLO, and it's in peace talks with Israel right now.

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Michael Weiss is the director of communications at the Henry Jackson Society, a London-based think tank that promotes democratic geopolitics. He is also the spokesman for Just Journalism, which examines how Israel and the Middle East are portrayed in the U.K. media.