Since 2012 Forward Thinking have facilitated visits to Northern Ireland for delegations of senior Israeli and Palestinian politicians to study the Irish experience of conflict and peace. The purpose of these visits is not present the peace process in Northern Ireland as a model that can be replicated elsewhere, or try to encourage participants towards a predetermined solution. Instead, the Northern Irish experience is used to enable a broader discussion on the challenges of ending a protracted conflict and to explore if this then helps participants to arrive at a deeper understanding of their own conflict.

To build on this work, in August we organised a series of separate workshops in Israel and Palestine for some of the individuals who have participated in these visits. To inform the discussions at these meetings,  members of the Forward Thinking team were joined by Pat Hynes. Pat is a former member of the Fianna Fail National Executive and a former Vice Chairman of the party’s youth organisation during the 1990’s. Politically active for over twenty five years, he participated in the Glencree Political Dialogue Program for over 12 years from 1994 and worked with the Irish government unofficially in the back channels of the peace process. He also participated in Glencree’s Middle East Programme between 2003-2007 which was supported by the Department of Foreign Affairs. For the past two years, he has worked on the legacy of the conflict issues in Glencree and is also part of the adjunct faculty at the Kennedy Institute for Conflict Resolution in Maynooth University.

Discussions at the roundtable in Nablus

Several workshops took place throughout the day of the 27th of August. The first was organised with a group of ultra orthodox women from different professional and social backgrounds in Jerusalem. Several key themes emerged, including the significant role that women can play in conflict resolution, for example by educating their children in non-violence.
Later in the day, meetings were held in Hebron with a range of  Palestinian political figures. Here, the group were able to draw on Pat’s experiences to ask questions about a range of issues, particularly strategies for moving past stalemates in negotiations. The final meeting of the day saw Pat share his experience with a group of young cross party Palestinians in Nablus. The group were keen to hear about non-violent approaches to conflict resolution and how to stay politically motivated  in a protracted conflict environment.
Further meetings were organised throughout the 28th with different constituencies. These included several meetings with representatives from Likud at different levels. Discussions covered a variety of themes, including: how Brexit may impact the peace process in Northern Ireland; how to manage the challenges presented by spoilers and the extent to which peace processes are not linear.

On the 29th, workshops were conducted with national religious MK’s and a group of religious zionist women, both of which had previously been on a Forward Thinking delegation visit to Ireland.These groups were interested in understanding the role played in the conflict by international actors and the relevance of this for the Arab-Israeli conflict. The women’s group were also keen to explore what the role of women in the conflict can be, given most violence is perpetrated by men. The need to manage and confront the legacies and trauma of conflict were also discussed in depth.

The trip was concluded with an interactive workshop in Tel Aviv with fellows from the Negotiation Strategies Institute. Several Fellows and Pat explored the case of Ireland in depth, debating if the various techniques deployed there might be relevant to Israel today.