Today, Northern Ireland remains British. But a good road connects the Republic in the south with the United Kingdom in the north, and no border guards or checkpoints impede travel between the two. Former terrorists, reformed if not repentant, serve in Northern Ireland’s government. Rightly or wrongly, Queen Elizabeth II shook hands with one earlier this year.
On a brief return to Northern Ireland this week, it was apparent that there are still tensions, still segregated neighborhoods, still pubs where Protestants and Catholics do not mix. But the Troubles ended when most people on both sides accepted the idea of an imperfect peace, when they came to see compromise as preferable to more killing and dying, and when they tired of the poverty and degradation that chronic carnage brings in its wake.
Should that give us hope that peace in the Middle East also is possible and perhaps even imminent? Absolutely not.
At its worst, the IRA never sought the destruction of Britain and never vowed to wipe Protestants off the Irish map. The most extreme Protestant paramilitaries did not argue that southern Catholics had no right to self-determination.
These days, it is fashionably multicultural and politically correct to assign blame in roughly equal measure to Israelis and Palestinians. It also is patently false. Time and again, Israelis have demonstrated their willingness to compromise in order to achieve an imperfect peace with their neighbors, not least those in Gaza and the West Bank.
Hamas, by contrast, is openly committed to Israel’s annihilation, attacking those who would settle for less as traitors and apostates. Fatah’s spokesmen, at least in Arabic, express solidarity with Hamas on that score. Meanwhile, Iran’s rulers, Hezbollah, and the Muslim Brotherhood all continue to insist that they will never accept Israel, that they will not allow even the tiniest swath of the Middle East to be ruled by non-Muslims, least of all the despised Jews, who, it is charged with bewildering inconsistency, defied the Prophet Mohammed in ancient Arabia and have no roots in the region.
“There are fascist forces in this world,” David Trimble said in his 1998 Nobel Lecture. “The first step to their defeat is to define them.” In Ireland, enough people took that step, and what Trimble has termed “a sort of peace” has been the admirable result. In the Middle East, too many are still unwilling or unable to take that first step, and so no other steps can follow.