11 May 2009

Peace is Not the Absence of Conflict

Excellent op-ed by Ken Foley today on the Palestinian conflict seen through the eyes of an Irish Republican. Ken is a member of the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign and also a member of Sinn Fein.
The recent Israeli actions in Gaza demonstrated not only the brutal nature of the occupation and the ideology behind it, but also the deep internal division within the Palestinian body politic. It was already common knowledge that Israel had effectively ended the ceasefire on 4 November with an attack that left six members of Hamas dead. Yet, as pictures of dead, dying and wounded Palestinian police cadets flashed through the world's television screens, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was busy toeing the Israeli line that Hamas was responsible for the ending of ceasefire. He said this, not because it was true, but as a way of undermining the political authority of Hamas in Gaza and increasing his own. Ordinary Palestinians saw through the quite crude and transparent attempt, forcing Abbas to backtrack on his earlier assertion.

The now un-mandated Palestinian president has overseen a situation where his political legitimacy rests, not on his acceptance by the Palestinian people, but on his acceptance by Israel and the West as "a man we can do business with." Of course they mean business on their terms, not on terms that will bring about a lasting peace but on terms that will preserve Israeli hegemony and reinforce the notion among Palestinians that they are a defeated people. Coming from Ireland and understanding the nature of conflict resolution in the case of the Irish peace process, it is clear that peace is not achieved on such terms. Without justice there can be no peace.

Peace is sometimes defined as an absence of conflict. However, I would define it as an absence of injustice. In the years leading up to the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, the British government approached the concept of peace in the narrow terms of defeating and undermining armed resistance, primarily by the Irish Republican Army, against the British occupation of Ireland. For them, armed resistance was a direct challenge to their position of dominance and privilege.

The Good Friday Agreement was not the first attempt to end conflict in the north of Ireland. The Sunningdale and Anglo-Irish Agreements in the 1970s and '80s respectively were attempts to end conflict but also to preserve the status quo position of dominance and privilege. There was no acceptance that the armed conflict was the inevitable manifestation of the political conditions in which Nationalist Republicans found themselves. The institutionalized discrimination in areas such as jobs and housing were still a daily reality. In addition, there were concerted attempts to treat the situation in the north of Ireland as a simple security situation that could be defeated militarily. The aim was to reinforce in the minds of Irish Republicans that they were a defeated people. However, the resistance, both politically and militarily, continued against the politics of occupation, subjugation and discrimination until the more recent peace process began. Read more HERE