I look at the contrasting journeys taken by Northern Ireland and by Israel in the last 25 years and conclude that one got on the right train and the other missed it – with consequences that get only more tragic.
To be sure, not everything in Northern Ireland is rosy. The institutions of self-government remain suspended, and this week MI5 raised the threat level from substantial to severe. But talk to those involved in brokering the Good Friday agreement, whose 25th anniversary is approaching, and they are clear that thousands of people are alive now who would be dead, murdered, had it not been for that accord. Less than a fortnight ago we marked the 20th anniversary of one of the worst acts ever committed by a UK government. In less than a fortnight, we can remember one of the best. (Strange to think they both occurred under the same prime minister.)
Now consider Israel. As it happens, the Northern Ireland peace process ran in parallel with a sustained effort to end the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. Both went through 1990s Washington, where I was a correspondent for this newspaper, with representatives of both sides in both conflicts constantly in and out of the city, each one benefiting from the direct involvement of President Bill Clinton. The exhausted peacemakers of Northern Ireland got their deal across the line on that famous, bleary-eyed Easter morning. The peacemakers of Israel-Palestine never did….