Comment at end
19th March 2010
IS IT TIME FOR A REAL POLL ON ISRAEL’S FUTURE?
Below, here, I ask whether we are approaching the time for a vote/referendum in Israel as in the Northern Ireland settlement. Tony Blair was widely accepted to have been the originator/instigator of the asking the people exercise. (Yes, the great “dictator”, according to his politically-challenged detractors in Britain.) Both Mr Blair and another figure central to ending the Northern Ireland “troubles” – George Mitchell – are again central in the Middle East “peace process”.
The Middle East quartet issued a call from Moscow today for an Israeli settlement freeze in the West Bank as well as East Jerusalem, and backed a peace treaty by March 2012.
Nearly half of Israelis support settlement freeze in E. Jerusalem
However, two new opinion polls published in Israeli newspapers on Friday suggested that not all Israelis are rallying around the government despite assertions by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of broad Israeli support for building in East Jerusalem – an area Israel annexed after capturing it in the 1967 war, but which is considered illegally occupied by the United Nation’s and most of the worlds states. The Palestinians want East Jerusalem as a capital of a future state.
A poll by the daily Yediot Ahronot said that 46 percent of respondents support a construction freeze in East Jerusalem, while the figure from a poll commissioned by Haaretz found support for a freeze at 41 percent.
The Yediot poll found a statistical tie when it asked Israelis about whether Netanyahu or President Barack Obama is to blame for the current crisis. But when Haaretz asked about the US president’s treatment Israel, a surprising 69 percent cast it in a positive light. Just over half said it was business-like, 21 percent said hostile, and 18 percent friendly.
Israelis views on Jerusalem differ from Netanyahu line
Netanyahu aides reportedly accused the US administration of inflating the crisis last week after Vice President Biden accepted the prime minister’s apology. Netanyahu said the publication of the building project during the visit, which left indirect talks with the Palestinians in limbo, was a mistake.
The findings of the newspaper surveys reflect recognition among Israelis that, despite the annexation of East Jerusalem, Jerusalem remains a divided city, says Dahlia Sheindlin, an Israeli-American public opinion expert.
“This is the reality,” says Ms. Sheindlin. “Israelis are aware of it because they don’t go to East Jerusalem, and when they go there they feel like it’s a foreign country. If you catch someone in a rational frame of mind, they don’t want to give away East Jerusalem, but they know that it’s going to be under what they call ‘Arab authority.’ “
Since both Mr Blair and Mr Mitchell were heavily involved throughout the campaign to construct and to achieve public agreement on the Good Friday agreement in Northern Ireland it’s worth looking at the referendum held there in 1998.
On 22nd May 1998, just six weeks or so later, referendums to approve the agreement were held in Northern Ireland and in Ireland. The results were overwhelmingly in favour.
Since we are in the ‘indirect talks’ or perhaps ‘proximity talks’ period, the time may not yet be right. But asking the people will not be an optional extra if there is to be a final agreement with the authority that the Good Friday agreement has. To make it complete and fully authoritative the Palestinian people in the region under political dispute will also have to agree. The eternal optimist Tony Blair knows this; even it it takes two or ten years.
The referendum campaign (wikipedia)
The agreement was to be approved by a referendum in Northern Ireland, and a separate referendum was to be held in the Republic to approve the necessary change to Articles 2 and 3 of the Constitution. The people of the Republic overwhelmingly endorsed the agreement, but the campaign in Northern Ireland was more controversial, and the result less predictable.
The pro-agreement campaign framed the question as progress versus stalemate, as a struggle between intolerant bigots with no solutions on the one hand, and moderates with a constructive way forward on the other. The agreement was promoted to the nationalist community as delivering civil rights, inclusive government, recognition of their Irishness, and a peaceful route to Irish reunification. To the unionist community, it was presented as bringing an end to the troubles, a guaranteed end to paramilitaries and their weapons, and a guarantee of the Union for the foreseeable future. There was a massive government-funded campaign for the “Yes” vote, with large posters posted across Northern Ireland. One such poster featured five handwritten “pledges” by Prime Minister Tony Blair in an attempt to obtain the unionist “Yes” vote – this is despite the fact that none of the wording from these “pledges” was actually contained within the agreement that was being put to the electorate. These “pledges” were:
- No change to the status of Northern Ireland without the express consent of the people
- The power to take decisions to be returned from London to Northern Ireland, with accountable North-South co-operation
- Fairness and equality for all
- Those who use or threaten violence to be excluded from the government of Northern Ireland
- Prisoners to be kept in prison unless violence is given up for good
On the republican side, the “No” campaign seemed to concentrate on the purity of the republican ideal of complete and absolute independence from Britain. In this view any compromise, however temporary, on the goal of Irish unity (or the right to pursue the armed struggle) was depicted as a betrayal of those who had fought and died for Ireland. Decommissioning of weapons and an end to paramilitary activity was portrayed as surrender to the British. The principle of consent was represented as a unionist veto, as it meant political progress would be almost impossible without unionist participation. It was pointed out that the agreement accepted partition. The state and its institutions would remain hostile to the republican community, claimed the critics. Despite these misgivings, the vast majority of republicans voted yes, with only some tiny unrepresentative parties (such as Republican Sinn Féin) on the nationalist side advocating a No vote.
On the unionist side, the “No” campaign was much stronger and stressed what were represented as concessions to republicanism and terrorism, particularly the release of convicted paramilitaries from prison (often those who had killed friends and relatives of unionist politicians and were serving “life” sentences), the presence of “terrorists” (by which they meant Sinn Féin) in government, the lack of guarantees on decommissioning, the perceived one-way nature of the process in moving towards a united Ireland, the lack of trust in all those who would be implementing the agreement, the erosion of British identity, the destruction of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, the vague language of the agreement, and the rushed nature in which the agreement was written.
It was widely expected that the nationalist community would endorse the agreement. As the vote approached, unionist opinion appeared divided into those who supported the agreement, those who opposed the agreement on principle, and those who welcomed agreement, but still had major misgivings about aspects like prisoner release and the role of paramilitaries and parties associated with them (particularly Sinn Féin). The fear among the Agreement’s supporters was that there would not be a majority (or only a slim majority) of the unionist community in favour of the agreement, and that its credibility would be thereby undermined.
|Votes in favour:||1,442,583 (94.4%)|
|Votes against:||85,748 (5.6%)|
In Northern Ireland, the results of the vote on the agreement were:
|Votes in favour:||676,966 (71.1%)|
|Votes against:||274,879 (28.9%)|
There is no official breakdown of how the nationalist and unionist communities voted, but CAIN, the Conflict Archive on the Internet, estimated that the overwhelming majority (up to 97%) of members of the largely Catholic nationalist community in Northern Ireland voted ‘Yes’. Their estimate of the largely Protestant unionist community’s support for the agreement was between 51 and 53 per cent.
Complicating matters for the calculation was the turnout, with a substantial increase over elections in many traditionally unionist areas, whilst the turnout was close to that for elections in staunch nationalist areas. Approximately 147,000 more people voted in the referendum than in the subsequent Assembly elections, though it is estimated that there was also some deliberate abstentions by hardline republican voters.
The referendum was calculated centrally so it is not clear what the geographic spread of voting was, but an exit poll found that out of all eighteen constituencies, only Ian Paisley‘s North Antrim stronghold voted against the Agreement.
The pro-agreement result was greeted at the time with relief by supporters of the agreement. However, the scale of sceptical and anti-agreement sentiment in the unionist community, their continued misgivings over aspects of the agreement, and differing expectations from the Agreement on the part of the two communities were to cause difficulties in the following years.
- The Northern Ireland Assembly made a good start. However, it was suspended several times mainly because of unionist anger at the IRA’s refusal to decommission their weapons “transparently”. Elections have carried on nonetheless and voting has polarised towards the more radical parties – the DUP and Sinn Féin. In 2004, negotiations were held to attempt to re-establish the Assembly and the Executive. These negotiations failed but the governments believed they were very close to a deal and published their proposed deal as the Comprehensive Agreement. This document is expected to form the basis of any future deal.
- Although the Royal Ulster Constabulary was renamed as the Police Service of Northern Ireland on the 4th of November 2001, Sinn Féin, the second-largest party, did not declare its acceptance of the Police Service of Northern Ireland until the 28 January 2007 as part of the St Andrews Agreement. A 2005 survey indicates that 83% of the Northern Ireland population have “some”, “a lot”, or “total” confidence in the police’s ability to provide a day-to-day policing service.
- No IRA weapons were decommissioned until October 2001, and the final consignment to be “put beyond use” was announced on 26th of September 2005. There has also been allegations of IRA involvement in espionage at the Stormont Assembly (which prompted the UUP to collapse the Assembly), in training the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerillas, in several high-profile murders, and allegations of major robberies such as that of approximately £1 million of goods from a wholesaler and in excess of £26 million in the Northern Bank robbery. Loyalist, and to a lesser extent republican paramilitary organisations, are known to be currently involved in large scale racketeering operations, and are still believed to be actively recruiting and training new members.
- On 8 December 2007, while visiting President Bush in the White House with the Northern Ireland First Minister Ian Paisley, Martin McGuinness, the Deputy First Minister, said to the press “Up until the 26 March this year, Ian Paisley and I never had a conversation about anything – not even about the weather – and now we have worked very closely together over the last seven months and there’s been no angry words between us. … This shows we are set for a new course.”
Tags: 41%, 46%, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, former British premier Tony Blair and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, in favour of a halt, Israel, Netanyahu, Northern Ireland referendum, Palestinians, poll on Israeli settlements, Quartet, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Tony Blair, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham