Saturday, April 16, 2005
Last week I wrote briefly about the victim/aggressor cycle and how two different groups engaged in conflict move between the two systems in an unending, figure eight fashion. I used the conflict raging in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian territories as an example of the cycle and of how difficult it can be to move out of it. This week I want to talk about the other part of the victim/aggressor cycle, the path to peace, and identify its strengths and weaknesses followed by an example of where it has been implemented and is succeeding.
If the victim/aggressor cycle can be visualized as two circles backed up against one another, like a figure eight, one begins to understand how the two different systems work together to perpetuate conflict. Now, with that figure eight in mind, visualize a spiral leading out of the point where the two circles meet and rising above both of them. That is the conceptualized path to peace. From the middle of the victim/aggressor cycle rises hope; peace must begin with those individuals or groups most heavily involved.
The peace spiral that rises up has as its ultimate goal true healing and “justpeace”. This is a new word being used in the field of conflict transformation to describe a final stage in the process, where justice has been delivered to all concerned and peace finally reigns. However, along that spiral, at every level, there are slides back down into the victim/aggressor cycle, because a breakdown in the peace process is always possible. This is one of the drawbacks to this model.
If the initial effort is made by both parties to break out of violence and move towards peace, then both parties must be committed to the idea, in order to avoid falling back down into the cycle. Other models, such as total occupation, subjugation, or annihilation, do not have this to worry about because there is no cooperation - only domination, which leads to death. In the Palestinian and Israeli conflict, the world observed the path to peace being approached, if tentatively, in 1993. The Oslo Peace Accords were a significant first step in approaching justpeace. However, continued violence by both hard-line Palestinian groups and the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) destroyed the opportunity given and slid both sides back down into the cycle of violence.
The idea to cease violence and approach the path to peace must come from within either of the groups involved in the conflict, then must be approached by both sides equally. Both groups must have a commitment to peace in order for it to work and a method for reigning in hard-line organizations, like the Zionists or the al-Aqsa Martyr Brigade. Let us now look at a conflict where the path to peace model was not only used, but succeeded and is now approaching completion.
It has been four years since the last instance of sanctioned violence occurred in the brutal conflict between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Since 1972, the Provisional IRA has carried out political violence attacks causing and in retaliation to attacks of the same nature by Great Britain. For twenty-six years, bombs have exploded in British and Northern Irish cities claiming the lives of thousands. Although on a smaller scale than the Palestinian and Israeli conflict (no occupation exists), this conflict followed the same pattern of victim/aggressor, but has since ceased to use violence and is moving forward on the path to peace.
The British government, the Northern Irish government, and Sinn Féin (the non-paramilitary element of the IRA) began to seriously consider peace in the early 90’s. In 1993 the Provisional IRA officially called off all military action in response to the Downing Street Declaration, but broke their agreement in early 1996 with the Canary Wharf bomb. In 1998 the Belfast Agreement was signed on Good Friday, and both parties seriously committed themselves to peace. However, only four months later a dissident, hard-line republican group known as the Real IRA exploded a bomb in the streets of Omagh, Northern Ireland. When the British government, the Northern Irish government, and Sinn Féin all condemned the attack, the Real IRA promised to immediately suspend all violence. Despite the violence, the key players in this conflict stood for peace at a crucial moment, when a breakdown was not only expected, but imminent.
The next phase in the peace process, the decommissioning of arms, was initiated after the Omagh bombing. In May 2000, the Provisional IRA began sealing away much of its weaponry in arms dumps “beyond use”. However, when it became known they were not decommissioning all their arms, David Trimble, North Ireland’s First Minister and a key player in the peace process, shocked everyone by resigning. He claimed it was clear peace was not a goal if there was not a commitment to decommission. When the Provisional IRA responded positively with more decommission, he stepped back into office.
The attacks on America of September 11, 2001, brought about a sense of urgency in North Ireland, and decommission of arms was stepped up due to international pressure. Both governments, as well as Sinn Féin and the Provisional IRA, are committed to peace now. However, the problem of dissident groups remains. There were several, small outbreaks of violence this past summer, all of which received serious condemnation by all key players. This conflict is truly using the path to peace model and it is working. Opportunities to backtrack and begin violence anew have abounded, but all parties have responded, “No, we have had enough.” With time, even the dissident groups will be brought into check (because all major players rebuke them) and justpeace will flourish.
It is clear that the path to peace model does take time, and there is always the threat of backsliding down into the cycle of violence. However, when all major players (governments and large paramilitaries) come into accord with one another and agree to walk the path of peace, a hopeful future is in sight. Yet, that first step must be made and the commitment to peace must be present. Then and only then can bloody conflict cease. Then and only then does justpeace have a chance. Next week, I will attempt to answer that all-important question: So what? Or rather, what does it mean for the U.S.?
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Very informative. Be sure to check out my blog on the Make Partition History Campaign.
See you soon :o)