BLOG - Peace Making Lessons from Northern Ireland to Israel and Palestine: 2 – The formation of a contact group to help resolve the conflict
Colin Irwin Wed 06 Jun 2012 updated: Sun 01 Jul 2012
Peace Building Problem
Political parties, who are at best electoral competitors and at worst actively engaged in hostilities publicly refuse to enter into negotiations with their 'enemies' without first having them agree to a series of unacceptable preconditions. But without dialogue any possibility of achieving a workable agreement on the preconditions, let alone a settlement of the conflict, is impossible - the ultimate 'chicken and egg' problem.
Northern Ireland Experience
Although the first purely academic piece of research demonstrated public support for a political compromise on the future of Northern Ireland the politicians disagreed with a lot of what was done in this poll. Many of them thought the questions were biased or were the wrong questions on the wrong issues or even that the most important issues had been ignored. Inevitably different politicians from different parties had very different views on these matters. Some of them also thought that the methodology could be improved in terms of the way the questions were asked, analysed or broken down in terms of community and political groups. These criticisms were all very healthy, welcome and provided for a great deal to talk about and agree upon without running the risk of making political decisions that were irreversible. Through a series of private interviews with representatives of each party firstly the issues to be dealt with in the next poll were agreed as well as the time when they thought it could most effectively be published. Secondly the introduction to the polling interview was agreed in which it was clearly stated who was doing the research, who was funding it and who would get the results. Thirdly successive drafts of the questions were circulated until a consensus was reached in which each party felt their issues were dealt with to their satisfaction and that no other parties issues were put forward unfairly with questions that would be considered leading. In this way, informally, quick progress was made on a wide range of issues that were not necessarily being discussed in the formal negotiations at that time because of procedural and/or agenda problems. When the results of the first poll were published a number of procedural problems were solved and both the negotiations proper and the private polls were able to move on to the next set of issues - the different parts of an agreement.
Public Opinion Poll Action
Firstly, run a public opinion poll that demonstrates the desire of the people for an honourable settlement and that the possibility of achieving an agreement is real. Secondly, invite all the serious parties to the conflict to appoint a representative to work with the researchers on designing and agreeing a series of public opinion polls with the expressed objective of assisting the parties with their negotiations.
Israel and Palestine
With the election of President Obama to the White House and the appointment of Senator George Mitchell as his Special Envoy to the Middle East a peace poll was conducted in Israel and Palestine that clearly demonstrated the possibility of achieving a peace agreement.(1) Many other polls had confirmed this reality over the years.(2) But that is as far as the process went. Instead of using the results of the peace poll to deal constructively with problems in the negotiations the Israelis used partisan polls and public diplomacy to oppose a balanced set of accommodations that would have seen the negotiations move forward.(3) Regrettably funding for the peace polls was then terminated, so an invitation to engage with Israeli political parties more clearly committed to achieving a peace agreement with the Palestinians could not be made, and the peace process failed.(4) In these circumstances peace-making must not be restricted to government parties alone but extended to all politicians dedicated to achieving an end to conflict.
1 Irwin, C. J., (2009a) Israel and Palestine: Public Opinion, Public Diplomacy and Peace Making. Part 1. The Shape of an Agreement, Part 2. Process, www.Peacepolls.org, April.
2 Shamir, J. and Shikaki, K., (2010) Palestinian and Israeli Public Opinion: The Public Imperative in the Second Intifada, Indiana University Press, Bloomington and Indianapolis.
3 Irwin, C. J., (2009) Israel and Palestine Peace Polls: Public Opinion and Peace Making in Comparative Perspective, Public Opinion and Survey Research in a Changing World, WAPOR Annual Conference, September 11th to 13th, Lausanne, Switzerland.
4 Irwin, C. J., (2012) The People’s Peace: Pax Populi, Pax Dei - How Peace Polls are Democratizing the Peace Making Process, CreateSpace, Scotts Valley, CA.