Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland peace can inspire Middle East, says Obama

US President Barack Obama gestures after speaking in College Green as Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny looks on on May 23, 2011 in Dublin, Ireland
US President Barack Obama gestures after speaking in College Green as Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny looks on on May 23, 2011 in Dublin, Ireland

By Sam Lister

President Obama praised Northern Ireland’s peace process as proof “even the worst conflicts could be resolved” at a Press conference with David Cameron yesterday.

The President said seeing the results of the process on his visit to the Republic was “inspiring”.

Quizzed over the deadlock in talks between Israel and Palestine, the US leader said he was optimistic, though not naive, about a resolution.

Addressing British and international journalists at Lancaster House in London, President Obama, reflecting on his visit to the Republic, said: “It was inspiring to see, after hundreds of years of conflict, people so rapidly reorienting how they thought about themselves, how they thought about those who they thought once were enemies. Her Majesty's visit had a profound effect on the entire country, and so it is an enormous source of hope.

“I think it is a reminder that as tough as these things are, if you stick to it, if people of good will remain engaged, that ultimately even the worst of conflicts can be resolved.

“But it is going to take time and I remain optimistic, but not naively so.

“This is going to be hard work and each side is going to have to look inward to determine what is going to be in their long-term interests and not just what are in their short-term tactical interests, which tends to perpetuate a conflict rather than solve it.”

Mr Obama’s comments followed Israeli premier Benjamin Netanyahu's speech to the US Congress on Tuesday during which he ruled out a division of Jerusalem or using the pre-1967 borders.

That sparked a declaration from Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas that he would go to the United Nations if there was no progress by September.

Mr Cameron said both sides had to understand what the other needed for negotiations to take place — as happened in the province. He said: “When you look at what had to happen in Northern Ireland in order for peace to come about, there has to be some recognition and understanding on each side of the other side’s point of view.

“That is what I think is so crucial in what the President is saying about Hamas and Palestinian unity, which should in some ways be a welcome development if the Palestinians can have one group of people, but not unless that group of people is prepared to accept some of what the people they are going to negotiate with desperately need.

“That in the end is why the peace process in Northern Ireland was successful because both sides had some understanding of what the other side needed for some dignity and some peace.”

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