In his March 24 news conference, President Obama drew a parallel between the Good Friday agreement that ended decades of lethal conflict between Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland and his determination to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by pushing for Palestinian statehood. Just as it took "persistence" by peacemakers involved in ending sectarian strife in Northern Ireland, the president told reporters, his own "persistence" eventually will result in a Palestinian state living side by side in peace with Israel.
By touting only U.S. presidential "persistence" as the magic wand to bring Israelis and Palestinians together, Obama demonstrated an abysmal ignorance of how a still fragile but promising peace was achieved in Northern Ireland.
Yes, there is a parallel with Northern Ireland, but not the one Obama drew.
As with Israel and the Palestinians, the key question about how to reach peace in Ulster was whether Sinn Fein, the political arm of the terrorist Irish Republican Army, would get a seat at the table and participate in power-sharing with Ulster Protestants as the first step in that peace process, or whether the IRA had to first disband as a terrorist group and lay down all its arms under international monitoring and supervision.
For several year during the 1990s, Gerry Adams, the head of Sinn Fein, kept pressing for an immediate political welcome mat for his terror-stained party -- never mind the IRA's refusal to lay down its arms. And during all those years, Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush, John Major,Tony Blair and the government of the Irish Republic in Dublin stood fast and rejected Adams's entreaties. No seat at the table, no power sharing for Sinn Fein until and unless IRA terrorism first ceased once and for all, they persisted.
And their unwavering condition for peace and power sharing prevailed. Sinn Fein, Adams and the IRA were forced to bow to Washington-London-Dublin demands. IRA decommissioning under international verification came first in the process before the Good Friday agreement could go into effect.
If Obama wants to draw the real lesson from this Northern Ireland history, he would have to embrace George W. Bush's "road map," which also requires the dismantling of Hamas and all the other Palestinian terror groups before there are serious final-status negotiations on Jerusalem, borders and refugees leading to a two-state solution.
Instead, Condi Rice, in Bush's second term, turned her boss's "road map" upside down, pressing ahead with final-status negotiations while Palestinian terror groups were bombarding Israel with thousands of rockets and Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, the terrorist wing of Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah party, continued to plot more attacks on Israel.
No wonder Rice and President Bush, by acquiescing in her folly, achieved nothing. Israel would be suicidal to add to its misbegotten pullout from Gaza a similar withdrawal from the West Bank, while Palestinian terror groups retain their lethal arsenals.
Yet, Obama seems to have learned nothing from the Bush-Rice Mideast follies or from Northern Ireland's promising peacemaking process, as he grandly believes that his personal "persistence" alone is sufficient to bring peace to the Middle East. The cosmopolitan sophisticate elected president last November badly needs a crash course in Modern Irish History 101.