People often wonder whether the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, which has brought a 25-year respite from Irish sectarian bombings in Northern Ireland and mainland Britain, provides lessons for the war between Israel and the Palestinian Arabs.
This week’s visit to Ireland by U.S. President Joe Biden suggests, however, that the comparison is far more baleful than many suppose.
On the surface, the similarities seem irresistible. As in the Middle East, the Northern Ireland conflict involves two hostile communities, Protestant unionists and Catholic republicans.
After the island of Ireland was partitioned in 1921, Northern Ireland remained part of the United Kingdom. Its Catholics wanted unification with the Republic of Ireland, while its Protestants, whose majority in the province has only recently eroded, wanted to remain U.K. citizens.
This conflict erupted into the savage, 30-year terrorist war between the two communities, in which the British army was deployed to try to stop the violence and in which more than 3,500 people were killed.
The Good Friday Agreement, brokered by the prime minister at that time, Tony Blair, halted the bombings and sectarian shootings. It is a serious mistake, however, to assume that the same strategy could be used to end the Middle East conflict.
To begin with, the agreement wasn’t the victory for peace and justice it was cracked up to be. True, the bombings have stopped, and the province has been transformed for the better as a result.
However, the terrorist infrastructure in both communities has remained largely intact. Political violence has morphed into institutionalized protection rackets and paramilitary policing, complete with shootings in the kneecaps for antisocial behavior.
Nor has terrorism ended. Breakaway terrorist groups continue to mount attacks. In February, after the attempted murder of a senior police officer, the security forces raised the terror threat level from substantial to severe.
Shortly before Biden landed in Belfast, police found four suspected pipe bombs. These were reportedly to be used in an attack on officers after an illegal dissident republican parade, during which petrol bombs were thrown at a police vehicle.
A continuous threat hangs over the province. If anything is done to upset the Good Friday Agreement, it is said, terrorism will resume. This was precisely the threat made in the controversy over the terms set out for Northern Ireland in the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union.
So this famous agreement represents a form of mafia peace—tranquility enforced by a loaded gun held to the head.
The received wisdom is that this is a price worth paying. Back in 1998, however, some in army circles claimed that military measures and massive infiltration of the IRA by British intelligence meant that Britain could have seen off the men of violence altogether. Instead, protested these voices, Britain had plucked defeat out of the jaws of victory.
Critical to that process was the involvement of former President Bill Clinton. His support for the Catholics—even hosting at a 1994 White House reception Gerry Adams, the leader of the terrorist IRA and its political arm, Sinn Féin—altered the balance of power and ensured that the Protestants couldn’t win the war.
Both Clinton and Blair believed that a similar “peace process” would work between Israel and the Palestinian Arabs. This was wrong for two main reasons.
First, Irish terrorists were fighting over power in one small corner of the United Kingdom. The Irish Republican Army (IRA) wanted a united Ireland; it did not want to occupy Britain and wipe out the British. By contrast, the Palestinian Arabs are intent on wiping out Israel altogether.
The other crucial difference is that the IRA were effectively beaten into a permanent stalemate. Understanding they could never win through terror, they volunteered to share power instead.
The Palestinian Arabs, by contrast, are far from acknowledging they are beaten. Why should they, when the Biden administration and the Democratic Party lean over backwards to appease them while coming down on Israel like a ton of bricks?
Clinton’s hubris and arrogance brought about the catastrophic Oslo “peace process.” Rather than being transformed into statesmen by the offer of a state of their own with more than 90% of the disputed territories, the Palestinians unleashed a campaign of human bomb attacks in which more than 1,130 Israelis were murdered between 2000 and 2005.
Since then, and learning precisely nothing, U.S. Democrat administrations have continued to interfere in both Ireland and Israel in ways that are deeply partisan, incentivize yet more terrorist violence and dump upon their purported allies.
Biden, who sentimentalizes his Irish family ties, helped undermine the United Kingdom in its fraught negotiations with the European Union over Northern Ireland’s position under the Brexit agreement. Repeatedly claiming that the British government was putting the Good Friday Agreement at risk, Biden put pressure on the United Kingdom to accede to the E.U.’s demands—with the veiled threat that a trade deal depended on it.
The compromise that Prime Minister Rishi Sunak eventually reached with the E.U. left Northern Ireland remaining stranded inside the E.U.’s internal market—thus still creating an effective border with mainland Britain down the middle of the Irish Sea.
As a result, power-sharing under the Good Friday agreement is on hold because the Unionists have boycotted the Northern Ireland Assembly in protest. In his speech to the Irish parliament, Biden had the gall to lecture Britain’s prime minister on the need to work more closely with the Irish government to resolve the problem.
The Democrats appear to think that, as with Israel, they have the right to dictate a particular outcome in Northern Ireland. Despite their pieties about “peace,” that outcome is clearly a united Ireland—an agenda that constitutes a direct attack on the identity and integrity of the United Kingdom.
Early last week, Clinton and Gerry Adams topped the bill at what the Spectator described as a “grand back-slapping affair for Sinn Féin and their unnamed comrades” in New York to celebrate 25 years of the Good Friday Agreement.
The event organizer, Marty Glennon, spelled out that the true purpose of the agreement was “the reunification of Ireland.” After expressing satisfaction at the way the unionists were continuing to lose to the republicans, Clinton added that even so, “we need to finish the job there.”
For his part, after delivering in Belfast some meaningless platitudes about peace, Biden proceeded to insult Britain. After no more than a coffee with Sunak and a brief meeting with local party leaders, Biden departed for two full days in the Irish Republic where he loudly lauded everything and said he felt he was “coming home.” For good measure, he also snubbed the coronation of King Charles III on May 6 by announcing that he would be absent and that his wife would be present instead.
That’s how Biden is treating America’s most significant ally in the west. When it comes to Israel, America’s only true ally in the Middle East, arrogant magical thinking moves closer to outright malevolence.
For the Biden administration continues to ignore the Palestinians’ murderous agenda of exterminating Israel. It continues to fund the Palestinian Authority despite its “pay-for-slay” policy of rewarding terrorists’ families for killing Israelis. It refuses to hold the P.A. to account for inciting violence over fabricated threats to Temple Mount. Instead, it threatens Israel not to take the action that’s needed to protect Israeli lives and Jewish human rights.
It has displayed its disapproval that Benjamin Netanyahu is Israel’s prime minister by failing to invite him to the White House. It has interfered in Israel’s internal row over judicial reform by issuing not-so-veiled threats if Netanyahu doesn’t abandon the policy.
Privileging murderous aggressors over their victims, America continues to interfere in the affairs of other sovereign nations like high-handed colonial administrators.
The outstanding similarity between Northern Ireland and Israel is that the Biden administration is treating its two principal global allies like dirt while continuing to empower the enemies of civilization.
Melanie Phillips, a British journalist, broadcaster and author, writes a weekly column for JNS. Currently a columnist for “The Times of London,” her personal and political memoir “Guardian Angel” has been published by Bombardier, which also published her first novel, “The Legacy.” Go to melaniephillips.substack.com to access her work.