Peace Polls

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Peace Building Problem.

Exploring all the possible elements of compromise and accommodation in public may be seen as weakness and open up a party’s negotiating position to attacks from more radical elements and/or political opportunists.

Northern Ireland Experience

The parties elected to take part in the negotiation of the Belfast Agreement frequently found themselves in a complex of 'Catch 22' traps. If a major Unionist, Loyalist, Nationalist or Republican party suggested a creative and bold compromise they would be attacked as traitors by members of their own community opposed to the peace process. But if they said nothing then they appeared to be doing nothing even if, behind closed doors, secret negotiations were taking place in earnest. Unfortunately such secret negotiations allowed for the creation of mischievous rumours and falsified leaked documents which were generally far more radical in their content than the negotiations proper. Both honest open debate and discrete private discussions opened up a party to political attack. Those opposed to an agreement worked very hard to make sure all possible solutions to the Northern Ireland problem 'spelt disaster' in the public mind before they had a chance of becoming a reality. To deal with this problem the parties developed an unwritten 'code of practice' for running the public opinion polls that involved the following key features:

• All questions and options had to be introduced by a party to the negotiations to ensure both relevance and serious intent.

• The wording had to be agreed by all the parties to the negotiations to remove bias, leading or partisan phrasing.

• Questions and options could not be attributed to a party in public or in private communications. The detailed footnotes that accompanied each draft questionnaire made no reference to party connections and the notes on attribution, that accompanied each newspaper report, were agreed with all the parties and were generally vague on this particular point.

Public Opinion Poll Action

Test all the possible elements of compromise and accommodation proposed as various options in a public opinion poll without attributing the different options to any particular party.

Israel and Palestine

Public opinion and public diplomacy is not managed to help Israel and Palestine get to peace. Arguably, from a post Northern Ireland perspective, this is not a modern peace process. The parties to this conflict do not use public opinion research to systematically explore solutions that could resolve the problems that are holding up negotiations. If surveys of public opinion were not a regular part of the political culture of Israel and Palestine this situation would be understandable but this is not the case. Louis Guttman who founded the Israel Institute of Applied Social Research (IIASR) in 1955 pioneered a program of regular polling in both Israel and Palestine following the 67 War. Israel and Palestine were the first state/people to be surveyed in this way with a view to resolving their conflict. Regrettably this expertise has not been developed and used constructively to achieve peace in recent years by building on the lessons of Northern Ireland.