Use Northern Ireland Peace Process To Guide Mideast Talks, Says Cullinane

Having seen peace take hold in Northern Ireland, John Cullinane, who was involved in job-creation and in the peace process in the North, believes that Northern Ireland can serve as a road map for those seeking peace in the ever-fragile, ever-volatile Middle East.

"Northern Ireland represents for me an excellent model for peace in the Middle East. It's not perfect, but where else in the world did anyone resolve the kind of problems that were resolved in Northern Ireland," asks Cullinane, who has joined with others to try to distill and identify those aspects of the Northern Ireland model that could be transportable and effective.

The first major step is in selecting a "friendly interventionist" for the Middle East, Cullinane says.

In Northern Ireland, the friendly interventionist was President Bill Clinton, who stood alongside the Irish and British governments and used the power and allure of the White House to nudge Northern Ireland's political leaders down the path that eventually led to the Good Friday peace agreement.

In the Middle East, Cullinane says, "President Obama is going to have to carry the ball, but he has with him Hillary Clinton, George Mitchell, and Jim Steinberg, all of whom were involved in Northern Ireland." Mitchell, the former Senate majority leader who served as the peace talks mediator in the Northern Ireland process, has been appointed as the U.S. peace envoy to the Middle East.

"Interestingly enough, in Northern Ireland, the English and others proved they couldn't solve it themselves and that's why they needed a friendly interventionist, and Clinton was that person and America was that force. Clinton resolved England's terrorist problem when they couldn't do it themselves, despite their vociferous objections. That's what we've got to do for the Middle East."

Cullinane, the software industry pioneer, philanthropist, and local businessman, says a second major step involves defining a vocabulary for talking about a solution to the long-running Israeli-Palestinian conflict. To that end, Cullinane has helped to develop six key concepts that can guide and inform a peace process in the Middle East.

Those key concepts are Hope, as in providing people with a vision of a peaceful future; Leverage, in the sense that an intermediary needs to have influence with the parties; Participation, making sure that people on all sides have the chance to vote on a plan; Livelihood, making clear that a solution will yield economic benefits or a "peace dividend;" Self-Determination, ensuring that all parties can count on having legitimate political power, and Leadership, meaning that circumstances are created so that political leaders on the ground can feel comfortable in advocating for new arrangements.

"Look at the Friendly Interventionist model and the six key points. That's the solution and that's what King Abdullah (of Jordan) has said is a brilliant way forward," Cullinane notes.

The six points, which flow from a message-distillation process Cullinane created after founding Cullinet Software Inc. in the late 1960s, evoke much of what was discussed as the peace process unfolded in Northern Ireland.

Certainly, there was much discussion in the North of the hope for something better than three decades of conflict, of the economic benefits that would and did follow a settlement, and for voters on both sides of the Irish border being able to bless the outcome. "If it can be done in Northern Ireland, it can be done anywhere, and this is the kind of new thinking that you need in the Middle East," says Cullinane, who is part of a larger effort that includes leaders from the American Jewish community and Palestinian leaders as well.

A key concept that has to be imported from the Northern Ireland peace process is allowing all parties to have seats at the table.

"In the Middle East, we hear, ‘We can't talk to Hamas unless they meet these conditions' and that's exactly analogous to Northern Ireland, where the unionists would say: ‘We can't talk to the IRA-Sinn Fein until the IRA gives up their weapons." And, you know they're not going to do that. So people who don't want to talk set up these impossible hurdles for the other side to jump over, but you really can't allow that to happen.

Says Cullinane: "What happened in Northern Ireland wasn't going to impact America very much but what happens in the Middle East definitely does -- and has. Our children and grandchildren have a big stake in this. The No. 1 problem in the world is the Palestinian-Israeli problem, and they can't solve it themselves."