BLOG - Peace Making Lessons from Northern Ireland to Israel and Palestine: 9 - Setting the procedural parameters for a peace process
Colin Irwin Sun 08 Jul 2012 updated: Tue 10 Jul 2012
Peace Building Problem.
Before an agreement can be reached 'shape of the table' decisions have to be made about who is eligible to negotiate, how decisions will be made in the negotiations, who will chair the negotiations, pay for them and where they will be held and last, but by no means least, if there is to be a referendum who is eligible to vote.
Northern Ireland Experience
Many of the procedural issues were settled by the British and Irish governments before the polls began. The parties to the Belfast negotiations held in Stormont Castle were elected on a proportional basis. The first ten got in. This ensured participation by parties with both Loyalist and Republican paramilitary connections. The two governments also favoured the John Hume/SDLP proposal of a referendum in both the North and South of Ireland at the same time, Sinn Féin wanted an all 'island of Ireland' referendum while Unionists preferred leaving it up to the Northern Ireland electorate alone. On 12 September 1997 the results of a poll exploring these and other related procedural issues was published in the Belfast Telegraph.(1) People wanted a referendum, they wanted the Stormont Talks to keep going even if Sinn Féin walked out (they didn't) and they wanted the largest Unionist and Nationalist parties to stay in (they did). The only workable compromise on who should vote in a Referendum appeared to be the John Hume/SDLP formula although Northern Ireland Protestants considered the Republic of Ireland vote to be of little or no relevance. However, by subsequently including changes to the Republic's constitution in that vote its importance, for everyone, was substantially increased. Northern Ireland Catholics also wanted any deal made to be supported by a majority in both communities. This was done in the system of party voting adopted in the Stormont Talks and also in the way the polls were analysed. Unionists favoured a simple majority and this is how the Northern Ireland referendum was calculated. So in a way everyone got a bit of what they wanted. Perhaps the most significant contribution made by the polls at this point in the proceedings was to help bring these technical issues into the public discourse and the fact that the people required far fewer preconditions than their political leaders. The people simply wanted them 'to get on with it'.
Public Opinion Poll Action
Use public opinion polls to both test the various options for the design of the political negotiations as well as structuring the sampling, demographics and mode of analysis of the data collected in the polls to mirror the decision making processes that are adopted.
Israel and Palestine
The procedures for negotiating a peace agreement between Israel and Palestine are quite simply ‘not fit for purpose’. They are ‘off-again/on-again’ between the political elites of the Prime Ministers office in Israel and the Presidents office in Palestine with the sometimes intervention of the US Presidents representative to the Middle East when one is appointed. The procedures of this peace process are set as much by the electoral cycle in America as they are by the necessities of peace in the region. None of this would matter if the political elites were negotiating in good faith and doing their duty for all the peoples who look to them for a successful outcome to their deliberations. But this is not the case. Every aspect of the Israel/Palestine negotiations needs reform with input - directly or indirectly - from all the parties to the conflict, intense negotiations in Jerusalem and elsewhere as may be required and independent monitoring of breaches of international law by the parties to the negotiations. This list could be much longer. Critically the 2009 Irwin/OneVoice poll focused on procedural issues, which were much easier to resolve then questions of substance. The publics in both Israel and Palestine wanted far more effective procedures than those on offer, but their wishes have been denied.
1 C. J. Irwin, ‘The people’s vote’, Belfast Telegraph, Friday, September 12th, (1997).