Drawing on the direct experiences of former DUP special advisor Richard Bullick over the course of his 15 years of participation in power-sharing negotiations and party electoral campaigns, Forward Thinking convened a series of discussions with senior Israeli political and religious figures in Tel Aviv, and cross-factional Palestinian political leaders in Ramallah.
These meetings represented an opportunity for key figures from within Likud, Labour and Jewish Home to further explore strategies and insights from Northern Ireland that could bear relevance to their own context, subsequent to earlier delegation visits to Belfast and Dublin.
The cross-factional Palestinian political roundtable brought together figures from Hebron, Jerusalem, Nablus, and Ramallah to similarly provoke reflection on the experience of Northern Ireland, both in reference to internal Palestinian politics and more broadly.
Discussions focused on the DUP’s successes and failures to develop a compelling long-term vision for Northern Ireland, and the need to consistently convince its base that the short-term compromises are worthwhile. Crucially, there was an emphasis on the difficulty in negotiating between the purity of principles, which may prevent pragmatic and messy engagement, and the benefits of participation in a difficult and halting process, in order to be able to shape it.
The conversations were rooted in the practical experiences of Northern Ireland’s deeply imperfect peace process, and focused at the practical level of strategies, mechanisms, and political calculations of timing and risks. Whilst the realities of a grinding (but successful) political process were surprising to some, these realities offered participants a more tangible way to think about their own contexts than abstract notions of ‘peace’ and ‘political will’.