Belfast Telegraph

Is NI really proof that Israel should talk to terrorists?

By Lindy McDowell

The kerbstones outside the café are painted red, white and blue. From the speakers, Van Morrison is blasting out about the joys of cleanin’ windays in east Belfast.

And over at the bus-stop there’s that big advertising hoarding promoting Bushmills whiskey. It can only be one place. Tel Aviv

At times there’s a real sense of similarity between the Israeli city and our own place. But it’s not as neat as the peace processors with their one-template-fits-all approach to what they term conflict resolution appear to believe. (Those red and white and blue and white kerbstones incidentally, are not marking out territory. They’re parking regulation.)

In Israel today there are undoubted echoes of Northern Ireland at the height of the Troubles. The handbag and body searches at the entrance to shops and bars.

The little old lady at the railway station asking a bystander to explain to the security guard, if he asked, that the suitcase was hers, that she’d be back in a minute and no, it wasn‘t a suspicious package.

Soldiers with guns on the streets. And any amount of T-shirts for sale with inspirational messages about peace, love and inter-community outreach. Not so long ago that was us. Could the “peace” strategy that worked here work in Israel, too?

(Again there’s that haunting sense of familiarity over there with some of the main players from over here. George Mitchell. Hillary Clinton. Tony Blair. And some bloke dressed in robes sitting in the city centre claiming to be the new messiah ...)

There are consistent calls for Israel to talk to Hamas and Hezbollah in the same way that the British government talked to terrorist groupings here. The argument is this worked for us. In a way

In Northern Ireland former terror top dogs have been transformed into fat cats. Many of those within the paramilitary hierarchies on all sides have moved seamlessly into new roles with position and clout within the system.

Critics (ok, I’m one) see this as a sticking plaster strategy which reaps temporary benefits but may have more dubious long term durability.

One glaring failing is that, while it leaves victims feeling betrayed and aggrieved, the piecing-off of terror groupings has not addressed the continuing division in this place.

The sectarianism that fuelled gangs on both sides remains rampant — if not worse than ever. And there are still a lot of gangsters out there

Besides all of which, Hamas and Hezbollah may not be so quick to come to the table (never mind take the soup) as our lot. Most importantly, we didn’t have the threat from the murderous and lunatic regime in Iran to contend with.

To Israel it’s that threat from Iran which, not surprisingly, currently eclipses all other security concerns. The regime of Ali Khamenei and President Ahmadinejad calls for Israel to be wiped off the face of the earth while pursuing its nuclear ambitions.

We kid ourselves if we think this is only a regional issue. For the threat from Iran menaces us all.

Most immediately it impacts upon the tens of thousands of brave Iranians who have risked so much to protest against the regime in Teheran. Many have already been killed, tortured, raped, imprisoned.

It is in their name that a recent full page advertisement in the International Herald Tribute calls on the British, American, French, German and Russian governments to speak out more forcefully against Iran and to impose tougher sanctions.

The open letter is signed by 44 Nobel laureates including Betty Williams, who won the prize for her peace efforts in Northern Ireland in 1976.

Meanwhile, in Tel Aviv people go about their daily lives with an impressive defiance not just for the threats they face but also for the savage criticism they continue to endure from Europe’s “liberals”.

The same “liberals” who would ban all things Israeli — even in universities. The same “liberals” who regard Israel, the only true democracy in the Middle East, as the Great Satan of the age. The same “liberals” who refuse to get worked up about Iran and its cruel oppression of its opponents at home.

And about the horrific potential of its nuclear plans.

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