At the time of writing, the “peace process” conversations between Israel and the Palestinian Arabs are still going on at Camp David. The prospects are that Israel will yield on almost every point, the Arabs on none. Meanwhile in Northern Ireland another “peace process” has moved into its final phase, with the national flag of the United Kingdom forbidden to fly over public buildings in that kingdom, and psychopathic terrorists with the most barbarous and inhuman crimes proved against them being handed get-out-of-jail-free cards. The Ulstermen, like the Israelis, understand that the greater nation that once protected them no longer wishes to do so. Weary of being shot, bombed and terrorized, they yearn for a normal life in a normal country. The easiest way to obtain this is to yield to their enemies, after first convincing themselves that those enemies are, after all, people very much like them, who do, after all, have some justice on their side, and who will surely, after all, behave decently to those over whom they have triumphed.
The Ulstermen have better justification for their surrender than have the Israelis. To be sure, both the Irish Republicans and the Palestinians have their “hard men” — terrorists who believe that any action, any action at all, that advances the cause is morally justified, and that compromise is betrayal. The larger Irish public, however, does not hate the Ulstermen or wish to drive them into the sea. The Republic of Ireland is no longer an introverted theocracy, stagnating in righteous poverty. They have discovered the joys of making money, of being the “Celtic Tiger.” When stone cottages in County Kilkenny sell for $60,000 it is hard to whip up broad public support for policies of vindictiveness and intolerance towards Protestant Ulstermen. Even Gerry Adams no longer wants to murder people, or to act as a front man for murderers. He wants to continue in his present line of work: travelling around in a chauffered car, addressing adulatory meetings, taking tea at the White House, being slobbered over by Larry King. The old conviction among Ulstermen that they would all be slaughtered in their beds if they gave an inch to the Fenians is becoming harder to maintain.
Not so in the Middle East. There the hard men are widely popular, and far more numerous. As much as we know about public opinion among Palestinians and their Arab neighbors suggests that a blood pogrom against Jews, following the defeat of Israel, would meet with general approval. There is no “Palestinian Tiger,” and the politics of the northern Arabs remains as benighted as their economics. The distance between the hard men and the larger public is much less in the West Bank than it is in the Irish Republic, or even in Belfast. The danger to Israelis from the “peace process,” and the degree of self-deception necessary to deny that danger, are correspondingly greater. The worst imaginable outcome in Ulster is a low-intensity Balkan-style war of ethnic cleansing; the worst imaginable outcome in the Middle East is racial massacre illuminated by nuclear explosions.
“Jaw-jaw is better than war-war,” observed Winston Churchill, and one does not want to be mean-spirited about all those earnest folk gathered around conference desks to wrestle with these deep, knotty problems bequeathed to us by history. These are their territories, after all, and it is they who will have to live with the results. Yet still it is hard to avoid the suspicion that the phrase “peace process” will sooner or later join other once-innocuous expressions like “final solution” or “cultural revolution” in the Devil’s Dictionary of political jargon. We now know that the recent mayhem in Sierra Leone is a direct consequence of the “peace process” initiated in 1998 by Jesse Jackson. “The government must reach out to those [rebels] in the bush,” Jackson told the elected leaders of that country in November 1998. Under pressure from the U.S., the Sierra Leoneans duly reached out, bringing the rebel leader, the appalling gangster Foday Sankoh, into their government as vice president. The result was that several thousand innocent people (none of them, fortunately, American voters) had their hands lopped off by Sankoh’s boys. Probably some of the same State Department functionaries that helped negotiate the Lomé accords are beavering away behind the scenes at Camp David this week. Certainly it is all being pushed forward by the same president, with the same mind-set.
In his immortal letter to Lord Chesterfield, Samuel Johnson wondered aloud: “Is not a patron, My Lord, one who looks with unconcern on a man struggling for life in the water and when he has reached ground encumbers him with help?” In the same spirit, we might ask: “Is not a peace process one that requires the party in possession to give up what it has won, and cherished, and cultivated, to those who demand it by prior right, and who are willing to shed all the restraints of civilization and humanity in asserting their claim? Is not a peace process what is forced upon embattled minorities when their former protectors tire of their obligations? Is not a peace process the homage that civilization pays to barbarism, cowardice to terror, war-weariness to blood-lust and reflective thoughtfulness to iron unblinking resolution?”
It may all come out for the best, of course, and if it does, I shall rejoice with the rest. Still, if I were running some small vulnerable territory — Taiwan, perhaps? — under the protection of a great power, and if emissaries of that great power turned up to talk about launching a “peace process” between myself and my enemies, I think my first acts on going home that night would be to check that my gun was loaded, my passport valid and my suitcase packed.