In October 2015, five MLAs participated on a knowledge exchange visit to Israel and the West Bank with Politics Plus.
The delegation consisted of David McIlveen MLA (DUP), Chris Hazzard MLA (Sinn Fein), Pat Ramsey MLA (SDLP), Adrian Cochrane-Watson MLA (UUP), and John McCallister MLA (Independent). The politicians were accompanied by Kevin Shiels from Politics Plus, as well as Edward Channer and Isobel Scott-Barrett from a partner organisation, Forward Thinking. Forward Thinking is a London based facilitative organisation, which works to promote a more inclusive peace process in the Middle East.
The purpose of the visit was to meet representatives from Israeli and Palestinian groups to learn more about the current situation in Israel and the West Bank. In turn, the MLAs shared their own experiences during the Northern Irish Troubles and subsequent peace process. They were able to proffer their own expertise in terms of engaging with multiple levels of leadership to achieve a cross community agreement to build a lasting peace.
The delegation’s first day included roundtable meetings with cross-party Members of the Knesset (MKs), the national legislature of Israel. These included Hilik Bar MK, the Deputy Speaker of the Knesset, and Ksenia Svetlova MK. They went on to meet with representatives from across the political divide including Dr. Mahdi Abdul Hadi, Head of the Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs (PASSIA) in Jerusalem; Dr. Ayman Daragmeh, Dr. Mohammed Totah and Dr. Nasser Shaer, Members of the Palestinian Legislative Council in Ramallah; Dr. Sabri Saidam, Deputy Secretary General of the Fatah Revolutionary Council and Minister of Education, and Dr. Mustafa Barghouti, Secretary General of the Palestinian National Initiative.
Throughout the visit, the MLAs discussed their own experiences in Northern Ireland in terms of the change of approach that occurred politically in the mid-late 1990s in Northern Ireland and the increased respect for each other’s mandate. During the meetings with members of the Knesset, the MLAs emphasised the need to instil hope in all communities and to recognise that problems cannot be resolved through continuing force. The delegation encouraged those they met with in Israel and the West Bank to create a shared space to discuss issues in a mutually respectful environment. On their final day, the MLAs were welcomed by the Irish ambassador, Alison Kelly, and David Quarrey, British Ambassador to Israel in Tel Aviv.