Teaching the World

Conflict comes in every form at every level of society. Sometimes it is productive or violent, sometimes political or personal. The Good Friday Agreement forged in 1998 heralds respect from various nations as not only sustaining peace, but also its restorative, ongoing process. Just a few weeks ago, my eyes were opened to how Ireland is teaching the world to both broker peace and sustain it.

The Shades Negotiation Program gathers bright and budding Israeli and Palestinian leaders to provide negotiation and peace building skills. Through their journey of gaining a greater understanding of conflict resolution, they were able to visit Ireland and Northern Ireland. Here they gained an inside view of how the peace process took place and continues to unfold. When the group travelled to Ireland, I joined them in their meetings and discussions.

“The best way to get peace anywhere,” said one of the panelists “is to have the leaders on a deserted island sign an agreement that they must stay there until the peace agreement works,” I overheard. A chorus of laughter followed but an important takeaway came from this: a reoccurring theme of constant participation in negotiations and renewing commitments. This stood out to many of the program participants. Notably, the recent Stormont House Agreement reached at the end of 2014 demonstrates the commitment of all parties to stay involved and maintain peace.

The role of media in dealing with high-level conflict became a popular topic of conversation. A general consensus of limiting media’s knowledge and awareness of specific points within the process would evade unproductive outside forces and keep parties laser-focused on their goals. While some arguments are compelling: that they can bring parties to the table; reality-test ideas that could fail to win popular approval, and even push parties to reach a conclusion, the media’s role had too many potential issues.

This was just a taste of what panellists, participants and organizers discussed. Gleaning from the lessons learned of Ireland’s involvement in the Good Friday Agreement, many found the conversation as enlightening but inspiring. Ireland’s conflict is unique in many ways but in some ways the lessons are universal. All parties at the table had to be willing to work for peace. The peace agreement was not the end game, implementation and sustainability had to be the conclusion. Limited media interaction during the peace talks. These concepts are not, and should not, but be contained to this Island.

The Israeli-Palestine conflict is one of many ongoing conflicts across the globe that could find great value from ongoing training in problem-solving negotiations.  Ireland should continue to export these important ideas not just for regional prosperity, but for the world.

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