Saturday, January 04, 2003

It has recently been revealed that the British government secretly considered forcible relocation of hundreds of thousands of Northern Irish thirty years ago, during a particularly severe flare-up of Catholic-Protestant violence. The plan involved the "separation" of the Catholic and Protestant populations of Northern Ireland, by relocating some 300,000 Catholics and 200,000 Protestants so as to create two religiously homogeneous regions, and then splitting the territory in two accordingly, merging the Catholic portion into the Irish Republic. The plan was abandoned as unlikely to be accepted peacefully by those slated to be uprooted.

But there's more to the story: at around the same time, Her Majesty's representative in Jerusalem, Gayford Woodrow, was urging "understanding" of the terrorists who had just perpetrated the massacre of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics. And a few weeks later, David Gore-Booth, a first secretary at the Foreign Office, explained that the hijacking of a Lufthansa airliner by PLO terrorists that achieved the release of three of their comrades captured at Munich was "a manifestation of the Palestine problem". "Before we shed too many tears about the Lufthansa hijacking", he wrote, "it would be as well to ask ourselves what the implications are so far as the Arab/Israel dispute is concerned."

As the saying goes, one man's "terrorist" is another man's "freedom fighter"--which is not to say that he's not still a terrorist, of course. The PLO apologists at Whitehall cannot plead woolly-minded naivete about terrorists in general, since they were at the same time contemplating the most drastic measures to deal with their own set of brutal thugs. The only possible explanations for their callous double standard are cynical expediency and irrational prejudice. It's hard to know which is the more likely culprit.

But the implications of the Israel-Northern Ireland analogy hardly end there. For example, what might have happened if the British government of the day had instead offered to forcibly remove only Protestants from the designated "Catholic" portions of Northern Ireland, setting up the latter as an independent Northern Irish state at the conclusion of a "peace process"? Would public opinion have found this one-sided "evacuation of the settlements" more palatable?

Of course, the IRA would never have accepted such a compromise, any more than they accepted the compromise that established all but the northern counties of the Emerald Isle as the Irish Free State in the first place. (And they would quickly have moved to gain de facto control over the newly independent territory, establishing it as a terrorist base and sanctuary immune to British or Irish policing.) Then again, the Unionists, faced with such a bitter, violent rejection of their concessions, might have retained a clearer picture of the IRA's utter implacability, and thus avoided their more recent disastrous flirtation with it.

On the other hand, Northern Protestants, in yet another Middle Eastern parallel, currently face a terrible demographic problem; they now comprise only a bare majority of Ulster's population. Israel proper (excluding the occupied territories) appears to have at least a few generations left before reaching that particular crisis. Perhaps she will somehow find a peaceful means of avoiding it before it's too late.

No comments: