Analysis: Why the N. Ireland comparison doesn't fit

The IRA didn't aim to destroy Britain, or to chase the Protestants out of Ireland. The same can't be said of Hamas.

ira poster 298 (photo credit: )
ira poster 298
(photo credit: )
On the day that the British Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee called for a reassessment of Britain's Mideast policy, including dialogue with Hamas and Hizbullah, the Labor Party chairman of the committee, Mike Gapes, once again drew comparisons between the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the troubles in Northern Ireland. Saying that the lessons of Northern Ireland, where the Irish Republican Army moved away from terrorism and into political dialogue with Britain, should be applied to the Middle East, Gapes said: "I think from experience in Northern Ireland, you know that sometimes you have to engage with people in a diplomatic way, sometimes quietly." Ah, would that it were so. Would that Hamas would have proven itself to be a latter-day IRA. Indeed, were that true, Hamas would be willing to renounce violence and decommission its arms, as the IRA did. The difference between the two situations is enormous. The first is that the basic goal of the IRA was to bring about a united Ireland, to bring Ireland to Ulster, not to London. The IRA never posited as its goal the replacement of England with Ireland. Contrast that to Hamas, whose stated goal is Palestinian rule not only in Gaza and the West Bank, but in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Haifa as well. Furthermore, while the IRA hated the British, and killed innocent Brits, while they saw Britain as the enemy, they never denied the legitimacy of the British state. IRA leaders never gave blood curling lectures and sermons lauding the day when there would be no England, when Catholic rule would reign in Britain. There was no intent to chase the Queen from her throne, or to purify Westminster Abbey. The IRA never aimed to destroy Britain, or to chase every last Protestant out of Ireland. The same cannot be said of Hamas. The IRA was a brutal terrorist organization, but it was a terrorist organization so different from the ones that Israel has had to cope with. A terrorist organization that sometimes sent warnings before the bombs blew up; that did not have the support of the Catholic Church; whose violent actions were not supported by most of those in whose name it acted; which did not carry out suicide attacks; and which did not sanctify death and perpetuate a death cult. Also the IRA didn't really pose a grave threat to any of Britain's neighbors. Granted, at times it made common cause with the Basque separatists in Spain, but neither Spain, France, Belgium, the Netherlands or Germany were threatened by the IRA. Contrast that to Hamas and Hizbullah, whose radical brands of Islam threaten Jordan, Egypt and Lebanon, to say nothing of Saudi Arabia. Indeed, although the troubles pit the Catholics against the Protestants, the violence in Northern Ireland was not the manifestation of a religious war, but a political one. Since the 1960s, the conflict was at its core over borders. The Catholic nationalists sought to unify Ireland, and the loyalist Protestants wanted to stay put as part of Britain. Not so our conflict. The war in Lebanon has hammered home to many - at least in Israel - that what we are faced with is not a territorial conflict, as so many long thought, but rather a religious one. This was made evident because Hizbullah had no genuine territorial claims on Israel, yet it killed and kidnapped IDF soldiers and provoked a war last summer anyhow. Most attempts to solve the Arab-Israeli conflict since 1967 were based on the premise that it was a territorial conflict. Look at UN Security Resolution 242: Israel gives up land, and gets peace in return. But then came Oslo, and Camp David, and the disengagement from Gaza, and Israel traveling a long distance in its willingness to give up land, but that did not bring peace, rather the worst terrorism the country ever faced. The name that Yasser Arafat gave the violence in September 2000 was telling, and a good indication of where things were headed. It was not the West Bank intifada, nor the Gaza intifada, but the Al-Aksa intifada. That was a clear indication that a toxic, religious ingredient was now an integral part of the whole cocktail. Gapes would do well to remember that when suicide bombers blow up Israelis they don't yell "Liberate Nablus" or "Free Jenin," but rather "Allahu Akbar." The backdrop is Islamic, not territorial. That was never the case in Northern Ireland; thankfully so.