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'Not an inch' is one policy Israel should not borrow

Middle East peace negotiators have little to learn from Northern Ireland, says David Morrison

In a recent interview with the Belfast Telegraph, Tony Blair spoke of his pride in the political settlement here and said it was an inspiration to the current search for peace in the Middle East.

It is to be hoped that the negotiators there can also find inspiration elsewhere, because, in reality, there is little to learn from Northern Ireland.

One lesson which might have been learned - that it was essential to include all significant parties in the process - has been ignored, with the exclusion of Hamas, even though it won a majority (74 seats out of 132) in the Palestinian elections.

So, if the present negotiations reach an agreement (which is highly unlikely), it may turn out to be unacceptable to Palestinians.

The Northern Ireland peace process took place because the military conflict had reached a stalemate - there was no prospect that further IRA action could force Northern Ireland's detachment from the UK, but neither was there any prospect that the IRA could be defeated militarily.

In addition, the local parties were put under considerable pressure from London, Dublin and Washington to reach agreement. No doubt the extraordinary patience of George Mitchell was essential but, without the military stalemate and the outside pressure, the Belfast Agreement wouldn't have seen the light of day.

The negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians are supposed to be about ending Israel's 43-year military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza and establishing a Palestinian state in these territories.

It can be taken for granted that Israel is not going to withdraw completely from these territories. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stood for no withdrawal at the election last year; "not an inch" was the phrase he used.

Palestinians are powerless to make Israel withdraw, since they live under Israeli military occupation. And there is little prospect of outside pressure to force Israel to withdraw, since President Obama has said that the US will not impose a solution.

Israel's military takeover of the West Bank and Gaza in 1967 was contrary to the UN Charter. When Iraq did the same thing to Kuwait in 1990, the UN Security Council imposed economic sanctions on Iraq to persuade it to withdraw. When that failed, the council approved the use of military force and Iraqi forces were expelled from Kuwait within months.

By contrast, no international sanction, either economic or military, has ever been applied to Israel to force it to reverse its 43-year military takeover of the West Bank and Gaza. Instead of applying pressure to Israel to withdraw forthwith, the international community now allows Israel to negotiate with the Palestinian people under Israeli occupation about how much of these territories - if any - to give up and when to give it up. And, if Palestinians refuse to accept Israel's terms, they remain under occupation.

That's equivalent to allowing a thief to negotiate with his victim about the amount of stolen goods he is going to give back, while he keeps his boot on the victim's throat.

Meanwhile, Israel continues settlement construction on expropriated land in the occupied territories. Around half a million Jews now live in these settlements. The Security Council has demanded that settlement construction cease and existing settlements be removed. Population transfer into occupied territory is also a war crime.

Israel has even refused to halt construction while negotiations take place. That's why Palestinian President Abbas was reluctant to enter into direct negotiations with Israel - and why the negotiations may be short-lived.

David Morrison is a political analyst with Sadaka — The Ireland Palestine Alliance ( www.sadaka.ie )

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