BLOG - Peace Making Lessons from Northern Ireland to Israel and Palestine: 14 - Testing comprehensive agreements as a set of balanced compromises
Colin Irwin Wed 11 Jul 2012 updated: Fri 13 Jul 2012
Peace Building Problem.
Not every part of an agreement can be settled as a search for common ground or even compromise. Some parts, which are very important to one party, will have to be 'horse traded' for other parts, equally important to other parties. The deal, as a whole, will inevitably contain a few victories and disappointments for each side to the conflict. Can the deal be sold?
Northern Ireland Experience
Yes the deal can be sold. If it is fair and has the potential to deliver peace, with all the benefits that can flow from that, then it will be acceptable. But it does have to be sold as the Northern Ireland polls and subsequent referendum campaign clearly demonstrated. The front-page headline of the Belfast Telegraph on 31 March 1998 (1) read '77% SAY YES'. This result was for Northern Ireland as a whole in response to reading a six-point summary of the proposed settlement and being asked if they would support it if their political party also did. But in a follow up question this support fell to 50% if the support of their party was withdrawn. Clearly the deal could be done but the two governments would not be able to go over the heads of the parties. They would have to do it together. Two further points are worth noting here. Firstly the supporters of Loyalist and Republican parties with paramilitary associations had the greatest misgivings about a deal but they trusted their leadership and would follow them. Secondly when asked about each of the six points of the proposed agreement in turn many people who said 'Yes' to the package as a whole said 'No' to some of the parts of the deal they still did not like. People were willing to compromise, in a big way, for the sake of an honourable settlement.
Public Opinion Poll Action
Test the comprehensive agreement to be put to the people in a referendum as a complete set of its major points and then test each element separately. The whole will be greater than the sum of its parts and will probably be 'acceptable' as a comprehensive agreement although individual issues may well remain contentious or even 'unacceptable' in isolation from the total package.
Israel and Palestine
Following the test of the Belfast Agreement as a ‘package’ in 1998 Israeli and Palestinian pollsters started using this technique to test the Clinton/Geneva settlement framework in 2003.(2) They have produced an excellent time line analysis of support for these accords with 58% of Israelis and 50% of Palestinians saying they would vote ‘yes’ in December 2011.(3) But that is as far as it goes. Without a modern peace process that also deals with all the public opinion, public diplomacy and procedural problems that stand in the way of real negotiations the results of these polls are of little more than academic interest.
1 P. Connolly, '77% SAY YES', Belfast Telegraph, Tuesday, March 31st, (1998).
2 Geneva Accord polls available at: ttp://www.geneva-accord.org/mainmenu/new-joint-poll-december-2011-support-for-the-geneva-initiative-significantly-increased
3 Joint Israel Palestinian Poll, December 2011: http://www.pcpsr.org/survey/polls/2011/p42ejoint.html#attitueds1