London, March 30, 2010—Youth leaders from OneVoice Israel and OneVoice Palestine visited the Northern Irish Assembly at Stormont on March 8 to discuss peace-building and conflict resolution with Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) from across the political and religious spectrum.
For most of the twentieth century, both communities were embroiled in a bloody conflict that most of the world thought utterly intractable. Now, Sinn Fein and the Democratic Unionist Party - previously, the two most hard-line parties in the province - sit in a power sharing government together as coalition partners.
Dekel Canetti, an Israeli youth leader from Jerusalem, and Rinal Sader, a Palestinian youth leader from Ramallah, sat with representatives from most of the major political parties, and shared lessons and observations about the difficult process of ending conflicts.
Conall McDevitt from the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), Danny Kennedy from the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP), Gerry Lynch from the Alliance Party, and Raymond McCarthy from Sinn Fein, all gave their varying perspectives on the key events and achievements that eventually led to peace in Northern Ireland.
Conall McDevitt struck a chord with both Rinal and Dekel when he spoke of the “exhaustion” people in Ireland felt after so much bloodshed, saying it was a key development in the cessation of violence.
Danny Kennedy emphasized that genuine peace required both communities to have trust in one another restored, a very difficult achievement after so much violence and bitterness on both sides.
Everyone present agreed on the central role that ordinary people play in ending any conflict, and commended the difficult work that OneVoice is engaged in.
The visit happened to come on an auspicious day, as there was an historic vote on whether to devolve responsibility for policing to the Assembly due to take place the very next day. Failure to reach agreement would likely lead to the collapse of the power-sharing agreement.
As the youth leaders left Belfast on Tuesday morning, they heard news over the radio that the vote had passed. Both Rinal and Dekel marvelled at how bitter enemies could become genuine partners for peace, and the will of the moderate majority could be translated into the genuine transformation of a seemingly entrenched conflict: valuable lessons to take back to the Middle East.