This afternoon I had the rather unexpected honor of being on a radio show immediately following Sen. George Mitchell, who has played a large role in bringing peace to Northern Ireland (among other accomplishments). Take a listen here if you like. He talked about how there was a major religious element to the conflict, but that the central issue was economic. He believes that this is central to these sorts of conflicts, and I’m inclined to take his word for it.
It seems like the religious nature of both sides (and abundance of cooperative models from each) suggest that this could be a fruitful way of building on the current successes. I suppose that now that there is a more peaceful atmosphere, there is an opening to talk more about cooperative models, and I would love to know whether Sen. Mitchell sees any potential for this.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict certainly has a huge economic aspect, and there is already work being done by cooperative movements in both nations. Their work has included attempts at joint marketing of Palestinian farm produce (currently on hold due to the blockade of Gaza, among other reasons), a joint village of Jews and Arabs, and several efforts that seek to help find markets for Fair Trade products from Palestine. An Italian co-op federation has even contributed to a program of business training for Palestinian women.
One of my favorite models is the Mondragon Cooperatives of the Basque country, founded under the leadership of a Catholic priest. The Franco Dictatorship subjected them to severe mistreatment, yet they have found a peaceful way through the organization of an autonomous cooperative system that now involves more than 80,000 worker owners and has taken on many roles usually held by government. I believe that this is a key part of why the ongoing insurgency has remained marginal.
Needless to say, I am very curious about what Sen. Mitchell would think about all this. Unfortunately he was a call-in guest, so I didn’t get to meet him. Maybe next time we share the airwaves…