Irish process is template for peace worldwide

At the start of this week Gerry Adams began a peace mission to Palestine and Israel. He brought with him a message of hope to the Israeli and Palestinian people. It was a simple and clear message - there is a way out of armed conflict.

Drawing on his experience of making peace in Ireland he explained to those Palestinians and Israelis he met that no conflict was 'intractable'; that all conflicts, no matter their duration or intensity, could be solved.

He also called for an end to armed hostilities by all sides as a necessary first step in establishing a credible peace process.

He did so in the belief that political problems require a political not a military solution.

Although there is not a single transferable blueprint for peace there were key principles which had worked for the Irish peace process and would work if adopted in Palestine-Israel.

These were - inclusive dialogue, recognising and respecting democratic mandates and upholding human rights.

Gerry Adams's schedule included meeting the political leadership of the Palestinian people and non-government leaders of Israeli opinion. Over the last month strenuous efforts were made to arrange a meeting between Gerry Adams and Ehud Olmert, Israel's prime minister.

Unfortunately the Israeli prime minister refused to meet him on the grounds that Gerry Adams intended meeting Hamas.

Hamas emerged as the lead party in elections to the Palestinian authority last January and are now the government of the Palestinian people.

Inclusive dialogue means just that. If you are part of the problem then you are part of the solution.

For Gerry Adams, meeting Hamas was every bit as important as meeting the Israeli government.

Meeting Hamas or the Israeli government does not imply approval of either.

However, it does imply a clear rejection of the consensus, shaped by the US-Israeli axis and adopted by the EU and their governments, which says that Hamas should be isolated and demonised.

Sinn Fein has a long experience of dealing with the consequences of attempts to marginalise republicans. It did not work here.

It will not work in Palestine.

Indeed, it is arguable that the attempts to demonise Sinn Fein prolonged the armed conflict and delayed by many years the Irish peace process.

The 'don't speak to Hamas' consensus is led by the most powerful and wealthy nations in the world.

After the election result they withdrew financial aid from the Palestinian government. This made it more difficult for the government to provide much needed services to Palestinians in areas under their control.

This dire situation was compounded when Israeli forces invaded Gaza following the kidnapping by Palestinians of an Israeli soldier.

Israeli bombs destroyed essential services like electricity, water and sewerage and created a humanitarian crisis.

The Palestinian people are being punished by the US, the EU and Israelis for democratically choosing Hamas to represent them. How democratic is that? How will this policy help to bring an end to the conflict?

Ten years ago in Ireland there was widespread cynicism about the prospects of creating a peace process that could deliver change in people's lives.

Today the political situation here has been transformed for the better.

The Irish peace process is a success story around the world. Sinn Fein receives regular requests for assistance from people and organisations involved in conflict situations.

At great personal risk Martin McGuinness visited Sri Lanka and spoke to the country's president and the Tiger Tamils about making peace between enemies. Gerry Adams's trip to the Middle East was as perilous. He also recently visited the Basque country and Spain following ETA's decision to ceasefire.

These are gestures of help and solidarity with people who are experiencing the consequences of war - people who are locked into a conflict situation and are struggling to find a pathway out.

New thinking and approaches on the part of British and US administrations, working with politicians here, made a valuable contribution to the Irish peace process. A shift in their mindset on the Middle East could have a similar impact there.

The conflict here used to be described as insoluble.

We now know this was wrong.

The same is true of the Palestinian-Israeli situation.

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© 2006 Irish Republican News