Earlier today the Conservative peer and former First Minister of Northern Ireland, Baron Trimble, launched a paper entitled Misunderstanding Ulster. Published by Conservative Friends of Israel, the paper warns against learning the wrong lessons from the NI peace process- a process for which he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
David Trimble is particularly concerned at the ways in which certain individuals are reading the process. Former Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Hain has said dialogue with the most intractable of people and without conditions was one lesson of the process. David Trimble strongly disagrees with that conclusion. The NI process, he states, was based on clear preconditions – established in Article IX of the 1993 Downing Street Declaration. Parties to talks about NI’s future had to commit to non-violence and to exclusively peaceful means.
Lord Trimble believes that it is perfectly legitimate for Israel to insist that Hamas must first sign up to the principles of The Quartet before any negotiations are possible. Those principles are recognition of Israel, repudiation of violence and recognition of past agreements.
The former leader of the UUP fears that Hamas may be more in the frame of mind that the IRA were in the 1970s than became true by the 1990s. In the 1970s the IRA saw the British government as weak and thought they could achieve victory. A 1972 secret offer of unconditional talks by the then Tory Secretary of State for Northern Ireland William Whitelaw confirmed in the IRA’s minds that Britain wanted to "surrender". This only emboldened them. A weak Israeli acceptance of unconditional talks may only feed the same feeling within Hamas, Trimble warned.
In a Q&A period, David Trimble (pictured with CFI’s James Arbuthnot MP) emphasised the importance of foreign states. The Irish government was faithful to the Downing Street principles, he said, throughout the process. Unfortunately there are too many states in the Middle East who are always ready to give comfort to Hamas.
Conservative MP Michael Ancram has made the case for talking to Hamas in an article for ConservativeHome.
PS The image on the cover of Misunderstanding Ulster is a real photograph from Northern Ireland. In the 1970s the IRA became political allies of the PLO and loyalist areas started, in reaction, to fly the Israeli flag alongside their own patriotic colours.
4.25pm: Melanie Phillips has written about Lord Trimble’s paper here.