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How to Get Sworn Enemies to Negotiate

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How to Get Sworn Enemies to Negotiate

Padraig O’Malley

As fighting continues in Gaza and the death toll mounts, it's hard to believe that any other conflict could feel this intractable. Veteran peace negotiator Padraig O'Malley says that not so long ago Northern Ireland looked similarly hopeless, but after years of dialogue--both direct and through brokers like himself--the conflict deescalated.

O'Malley is a professor of peace and reconciliation at the University of Massachusetts-Boston. In addition to his work in Northern Ireland, he spent years fostering dialogue between the African National Congress and the Afrikaners in South Africa. He says the first step toward peace between sworn enemies is to show them that their situation is not unique.

In the 1990s, he convinced Protestant and Catholic leaders from Northern Ireland to take a trip to South Africa. Both sides met privately with South African leaders involved in the apartheid struggle. The 1997 talks helped create the climate that ultimately led to the following year's groundbreaking  Good Friday Agreement.

In recent years, O'Malley brought Iraqi politicians to Helsinki, where they met with both the Northern Irish and South Africans. Those talks produced similar results: In July, 33 politicians from Iraq's Shiite, Kurdish, Turkmen and Communist parties signed the Helsinki Agreement, which created a framework for reconciliation.

Jerome asked O'Malley about his work and how it applies to the ongoing struggle between Israel and the Palestinians. O'Malley began with a description of the trip to South Africa that he arranged for the Northern Irish.

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