Dissertation: Wehrenfennig, Citizen Dialogue in Northern Ireland and Israel/Palestine

Wehrenfennig, Daniel. The Missing Link: Citizen Dialogue in Northern Ireland and Israel/Palestine. Irvine: University of California, Irvine, 2009.



The past three decades have brought major changes in the conflicts in Northern Ireland and Israel/Palestine. While both have had a peace process, Northern Ireland seems farther on its way to sustainable peace; Israel/Palestine is far away from it. Though both conflicts and peace processes have been intensively studied, the factor of citizen dialogue in these processes of change is a missing link that has hardly been explored.

This thesis is based upon extensive theoretical work. It assumes that citizen dialogue plays an important role in peacebuilding and that it can at least partially account for the different outcomes in the cases studied.

Hypothesizing that citizen dialogue is more likely to succeed in bringing peaceful change when it is: ongoing over a longer period of time, proactive and strategic in nature, and integrates various civil society and grassroots actors/groups into a peace constituency that is linked with the political decision-making process. To explore this hypothesis, 125 comparative field interviews with academic experts, participants and practitioners of citizen dialogue were personally conducted in Northern Ireland and Israel/Palestine.

These interviews are further supported by secondary interviews and material. The thesis concludes that indeed citizen dialogue took place very differently in both situations over time, though the cases had similar contextual circumstances at some points (e.g. the early 1990’s). In particular, the ongoing, linking and strategic qualities of the citizen dialogue processes as a whole were lacking in quality in the Israel/Palestine context. Citizen dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians in general are short term or frequently interrupted, limiting their trust-building impact. There are missing links between the political elites and civil society and grassroots actors in Israel/ Palestine and citizen dialogue processes generally lack a long-term strategic perspective. This leads to a suboptimal outcome of citizen dialogue and limits its impact for peacebuilding. In contrast, in Northern Ireland the long-term sustained relationships carried the peace process forward and the linkages between the official and unofficial levels became of major importance. In addition, strategies of key civil society actors and major funders to build peace capacities within and between each group paid off in the long-term.

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