OPINION: Talking about talking

This is no basis for talks

David Trimble cannot be accused of lacking knowledge of what the Irish problem was about; he had been part of the problem as well as the solution. However, his lack of expertise on the Palestinian problem – which he admitted on the BBC’s Newsnight recently – surely renders him ill qualified to insist, as he did on these pages recently, that Hamas should be excluded from any talks until it first complies with the conditions of the Quartet (the US, Russia, EU and UN): recognition of Israel, repudiation of violence and recognition of past agreements between Israel and the PLO.

Trimble’s warning against learning the wrong lessons from the Northern Ireland peace process derives from the assertion that the process was based on clear preconditions. Others involved in the process, such as Michael Ancram, Stephen Byers, Lord Alderdice, Peter Hain and Alastair Crooke, have refuted this claim. In any conflict, what really matters is first to secure a cessation of violence and to persuade the parties to negotiate how to live in peace.

Had the IRA been asked to sign up to the same conditions imposed on Hamas today, no peace would ever have prevailed in Northern Ireland, and Britain might still have been subject to IRA attacks. Hamas is being asked to accept that it is legitimate for Israel to occupy the homes of Palestinians and to deny them the right to return to these homes. It is asked to renounce violence while the Israelis are under no obligation to reciprocate. It is asked to recognise agreements that have been humiliating and detrimental to Palestinians. What would remain to discuss were these conditions met? And what guarantees are there that the result would be peace? [complete article]

The day after Annapolis

No invitations have even been issued for the Bush administration’s planned Middle East peace conference later this fall and US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is already talking about “the day after.”

Rice is back in Jerusalem for her eighth visit of the year as she tries to keep the conference on track and temper expectations.

After her first round of talks with Israeli leaders, Rice told reporters that the meeting in Annapolis (now expected to be held in late November or early December) would be “the beginning of a process, not a single point in time.” [complete article]

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