19 Conflict Transformation and Peace Processes: Peace Without Justice Is Just a Ceasefire

Franke Wilmer

Learning Outcomes & Big Ideas

  • Understand what is meant by conflict transformation, how it differs from conflict resolution and conflict management and why it is critical to sustainable peace.
  • View peace agreements and peace processes in historical perspective and see how the concept of peace at the conclusion of violent conflict has changed during the 20th century, especially the second half.
  • Consider that the contemporary state is an institution distinct from small-scale societies and empires and learn what distinguishes it from these other forms of socio-political order.
  • Interrogate the relationship between peace — the cessation of armed conflict — and justice, which addresses the underlying grievances of parties to a conflict.
  • Learn about four conflicts that concluded with efforts to transform the conflict into a sustainable post-conflict peace by negotiating new terms of relationship between the former parties to a conflict (South Africa through a new constitution, and Bosnia, Northern Ireland and the Middle East through peace processes).
  • Identify similarities and differences in these four negotiated processes.
  • Assess current conditions in the four cases from the perspective of whether progress was made toward conflict transformation.


Conflict resolution, conflict management, and conflict transformation are all important concepts in the area of peace research, but what makes conflict transformation different and how does it fit in with peace “processes” that seem to be more common than “peace agreements/settlements?” When leaders of parties to a conflict are unwilling to engage in dialogue and process through action, can grass roots initiatives create a demand for conflict transformation, if not a transformation themselves? Must people wait for their leaders to act or can citizen-led diplomacy and dialogue create a “demand” for peace and conflict resolution? This chapter will consider the cases of South Africa, Bosnia (former Yugoslavia), Indigenous-settler relations, and the Middle East (Israel and Palestine). When there is no effort to effectively transform the root grievances into dialogue and constructive engagement with an aim to at least talking about issues of justice (and injustice), parties to conflict continue to harbor grievances that either render the conflict intractable or, ultimately, erupt into future cycles of violence.

Chapter Overview

19.1 Introduction: What Do We Mean by ‘Transforming’ Conflict?

19.2 From Peace Treaties to Peace Processes: Conflict and Peace in Historical Perspective

19.3 Four Peace Processes

19.3.1 The Middle East Peace Process

19.3.2 From Apartheid to Democracy: South Africa’s New Constitution

19.3.3 The Yugoslav Wars of Secession

19.3.4 Ending the Troubles in Northern Ireland

19.4 Post-conflict Conditions Today

19.4.1 South Africa Today: Two Countries, Two Stories

19.4.2 Bosnia and Herzegovina and Republika Srpska: Two Entities, One State

19.4.3 Northern Ireland

19.4.4 Israel-Palestine

19.5 Assessing Conflict Transformation in Four Peace Processes

Resources and References

Key Points

Extension Activities & Further Research

List of Terms

Suggested Reading


19.1 Introduction: What Do We Mean by ‘Transforming’ Conflict?

Conflict resolution is not new, historically speaking. Small scale, local societies predating the European system of states and Indigenous communities extant today often have processes for bringing closure to injuries inflicted upon one another by community members. Palestinian peacemakers in Palestine and Israel, for example, engage in a process of conflict resolution and transformation that is common among many Arab societies known as Sulha and a related practice called hudnaSulha is usually used to resolve a conflict involving a murder or murders. The parties to the conflict, normally, the families, must choose, voluntarily, to enter into sulha.

The point is that people have commonly devised social practices to manage conflicts arising in their societies in order to avoid violence or escalation to violence, or redress grievances arising out of injuries caused by violence. In this scenario, conflict is resolved in the sense that everything surrounding it, the issues that gave rise to it, the grievances that followed, the perception of injustice, are “erased.” In Sulha, anyway, entering into the process and coming to an agreement on compensation for injury means that the families and people involved never speak of the conflict again, as if it never happened.

Large-scale, bureaucratic (organizationally complex and hierarchical), western, militarized societies, however, took a different path, from the Roman to the British empires, and most of the nation-states now-states formed as they declined, developed systems of retributive justice to deal with internal conflict, and regarded the use of coercive force as an instrument of influencing and dominating others in their external relations. Internal or domestic processes for channeling or managing conflict we and still are largely, retributive and punitive although there are parallel civil and criminal systems and some opportunities for alternative dispute resolution or ADR, bargaining, and negotiation. In that regard, it is also worth pointing out that some of the practices, including ADR, developed specifically as a means of resolving conflict in labor relations, which in turn arose out of a period in the history of labor movements when they were more inclined to act collectively, and sometimes violently.

19.2 From Peace Treaties to Peace Processes: Conflict and Peace in Historical Perspective

Here we will focus on the idea that peace in interstate or international relations was, for most of western history from the Roman empire to World War I, understood as the outcome of armed conflict in which one side conceded to the other’s superior force or coercive capacity. This resulted in asymmetrical peace agreements or treaties, where actual concessions were made by the party that surrendered to the will of the victor. The result was, with grievances unreconciled, the losing party had every motive to mobilize for a future conflict that might lead to a victorious or “different” outcome. Of course in cases where the asymmetry of power between the victorious and submissive party was so great that no future overturning of the outcome seems possible, the result was simply to institutionalize oppression, which creates its own set of problems while not setting the stage for a future armed conflict.

War was a social practice in a society of western, bureaucratic states. Peace treaties were agreements based on surrender and asymmetry. Where possible, losing parties often mobilized for future armed conflict (war) in order to renegotiate an outcome more favorable to their interests and objectives.

World War II changed that. For one thing, of course, unprecedented atrocities perpetrated against civilians who were primary targets, not collateral damage in both the Holocaust and the use of nuclear weapons by the US against civilian population centers in Japan. These atrocities no doubt also contributed to the other thing that changed the way western and western-style states handled the terms of peace that ended the armed conflict. For the first time, they made justice in the form of a judicial process a part of the peace process. Yes, it was a judicial process predicated on retributive and punitive norms, but it was not entirely a set of terms dictated to the losing parties by the winning parties, although it was also mostly that. Peace agreements ‘end’ conflicts without necessarily resolving them and definitely without transforming them. A peace process that includes provisions for participation, for utilizing a judicial process to assign responsibility, for public witnessing of accusations, evidence, convictions, and punishments, this was all new. And the provisions also allowed for continuing the judicial process through domestic courts even after the international tribunals were disbanded.

This does not in itself constitute conflict resolution, management, or transformation, but it did usher in a new approach to the settlement of violent conflict by adding justice to the process. As a contemporary field of study and practice, conflict resolution applied principles of negotiation more widely practiced in labor relations to international and interstate relations. You know the names of the conflict resolution pioneers: John Burton’s human needs theory and his two-track diplomacy (Burton, 1990a, 1990b, 1993, 1997); Louis Kriesberg’s Constructive Conflicts (1998, 2011); Lewis Richardson’s early models of arms races aimed at achieving an intervention to de-escalate before reaching the outbreak of armed conflict (1960), Anatol Rappaport’s application of mathematical biology to questions of conflict, Ted Gurr’s theory of revolution and civil violence, Rudolph Rummel’s quantitative analysis of conflict, the Causes of War project at the University of Michigan and others (Singer & Small, 1982).

Conflict resolution is a rather broad term that, at least initially, meant negotiated peace in which all parties to a conflict came away feeling that their grievances had been addressed. Conflict management is more concerned with channeling, as Kriesberg puts it, constructive conflict. Conflict is a normal feature of social life, so the challenge is to channel or manage conflict without resort to violence.

But what do we mean by conflict transformation? One of the most prolific contemporary conflict theorists, John Paul Lederach had this to say in 2003:

I have been using the phrase “conflict transformation” since the late 1980s. I remember that timeframe because it came on the heels of intensive experience in Central America. When I arrived there my teaching vocabulary was filled with the terminology of conflict resolution and management. But I soon found that many of my Latin colleagues had questions, concerns, even suspicions about what such concepts meant.

Their worry was that quick solutions to deep social-political problems would not change things in any significant way. “Conflicts happen for a reason,” they would say. “Is this resolution idea just another way to cover up the changes that are really needed?” Their concerns were consistent with my own experience.

The ideas that inform much of my work emphasizes peace as embedded in justice, the building of right relationships and social structures through a radical respect for human rights, and nonviolence as way of life. (Lederach, 2003, n.p.).

Owen Frazer, Center for Security Studies in Zurich and Lakhdar Ghettas of the Cordoba Foundation of Geneva put it this way:

Conflict transformation is about transforming the way that societies deal with moving them from violent to nonviolent means. Its goal is to build just, sustainable societies that resolve differences non–violently. To achieve this it must address the direct and structural causes of conflict. It assumes that conflict is inevitable aspect of social change same time it assumes that the way with conflict need not be violent reason violent conflict emerges or because parties do not have agreed mechanisms for resolving conflict non-violently. (Frazer & Ghettas, 2013, p. 6)

19.3 Four Peace Processes

We turn now to an examination of four cases where conflicts ended with peace accords, agreements, or processes – The Oslo Accord in the Middle East, the negotiations leading to the new 1994 South African constitution; the Dayton Accords the ended the wars in former Yugoslavia, and the 1998 Good Friday Accords that ended the “Troubles” in Northern Ireland.

19.3.1 The Middle East Peace Process

The Oslo Accord was signed by Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestinian Negotiator Mahmoud Abbas in September 1993. The official name of the accord is the Declaration of Principles on Interim Self-Government Arrangements. The PLO renounced terrorism and recognized Israel’s right to exist, and the two sides agreed on a system of governance in which a Palestinian Authority would be created and have some exclusive authority within the West Bank and Gaza, and other areas would be administered jointly or by the Israeli government and did not fundamentally alter the occupied status of the territories. Differing statuses were created for three areas in the West Bank. Area A is under full civil and security control of the Palestinian Authority and includes the eight largest cities and areas including Nablus, Jenin, Qalqilya, Tulkarem, Ramallah, Bethlehem, Jericho, and 80% of Hebron. Area B is under civil control of the PA and joint Israeli-Palestinian security control. Area C is completely under Israeli civil and security control. Area B comprises about 22% of the land in the West Bank and 450-500 villages. Area C has a Palestinian and Bedouin population of about 150,000 but contains about 90% of the natural resources in the West Bank. There are about 300,000 Israeli settlers living in Area C, and some of Area C is also considered state land and some is appropriated for military outposts. The Palestinian population in Area C has declined by about half since 2013, primarily due to demolitions carried out by the Israeli government. Palestinians are denied permits to building Area C. The international court considers Israeli settlements there to be illegal. Demolitions are ordered for a range of reasons including as punishment of the families of those accused or convicted of carrying out attacks against Israelis or failure to produce documentation of their occupancy, even though they have occupied these areas primarily as goatherders and agriculturalists, since they fell under the rule of the Ottoman empire.

Today, the fastest way to make friends in Palestine is to open a conversation with “Whoever signed Oslo should be shot.”

19.3.2 From Apartheid to Democracy: South Africa’s New Constitution

Although the UN called for an arms embargo and subsequent expansions of sanctions against South Africa from 1977-1986, the US and UK did not actively support the sanctions regime until 1985. Within only a few years, the white supremacist government in South Africa felt the international pressure, and the ruling National Party entered into negotiations with the African National Congress (ANC) that led to the creation of a new constitution in 1993, the first democratic all-race elections in 1994, and the creation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in 1995. The TRC was actually authorized by the Promotion of National Unity and Reconciliation Act of 1995 and created three committees – one on amnesty, one on reparation and rehabilitation, and one on human rights violations. The TRC was very clear about two things in its deliberations. One was that in order to be considered for amnesty, the crimes in question had to be fundamentally motivated by politics, and the other was that people committed crimes and atrocities in part because they lived in an ideological environment that normalized the dehumanization of Black and non-white South Africans. Victims’ families were invited to attend and offer their support for or opposition to applications for amnesty, and while their testimony and positions carried a lot of weight, the decision to grant amnesty or not was not solely based on the support or opposition of victims’ families.

19.3.3 The Yugoslav Wars of Secession

The “Ten Day War” of Slovenian secession and the response by Yugoslavia’s Belgrade government marked the beginning of an armed conflict in connection with the post-Tito status of Yugoslav republics and autonomous regions. Although the Dayton Accords of November 1995 brought to an end the armed conflict between the Serbs, Croats, and Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims), subsequent efforts by the Serbian government to expel Albanians from Kosovo provoked a NATO response that has since been considered subject to the same judicial process for war crimes accusations arising out of the 1991-1995 conflict that took place mostly in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The Dayton Accords, formally titled a “General Framework Agreement for Peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina,” created two ‘entities’ while ostensibly maintaining the territorial integrity of Bosnia and Herzegovina as a single state. The western part sharing a border with the Dalmatian region of Croatia, became the ‘Bosniak-Croat federation’ and the boomerang shaped eastern entity bordering Croatia in the north and Macedonia and Albania to the east, became the Bosnian Serb Republic, or Republika Srpska, as Serbs call it. Essentially, this arrangement rewarded the main protagonists, Serbia and Croatia, by dividing Bosnia into two territorial and jurisdictional entities with linguistic, economic, and political ties to the Croatian and Serbian states. Those living in the federation to the east were allowed to hold passports for Croatia as well as for the federation “entity,” thus reinforcing dual citizenship with a potential to become a single Croatian state. A twenty-six state alliance supported the post-conflict peace by participating in a Stabilization Force known as SFOR, and following the signing of the accords, a military ‘Implementation Force’ under NATO command would supervise and keep the peace.

The main provisions were that the three states — Croatia, Serbia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina — would respect one another’s sovereignty and maintain their borders as international borders. An annex to the accords were designated as the constitution for the Bosnia-Herzegovina state. It provides for a tripartite presidency with one representative from each of the three main identity/communal groups. Those with binational identities are excluded, for example, a Croat, Serb, or Bosniak who also identifies as Jewish would be excluded. A 42-member parliament are elected through a system of proportional representation with 28 from the Federation and 14 from Republika Srpska. A second house consisting of 15 members is elected by the Parliament with two-thirds from the Federation and one-third from the Republika Srpska. Both entities have a great deal of autonomy and each has its own national assembly, Prime Minister, and 16 ministries. There have been as many as 60 or more political parties participating in the statewide elections (Nardelli et al., 2014).

19.3.4 Ending the Troubles in Northern Ireland

On 10 April 1998, the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement ended nearly 30 years of violent conflict over the status of Northern Ireland and provided a framework for normalization and nonviolence (by ultimately decommissioning paramilitaries active in Northern Ireland was really two agreements – one between the British and Irish governments, another among the eight major parties to the conflict itself: the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP), the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), Sinn Féin (linked to the Irish Republican Army or IRA), the Alliance Party, the Progressive Unionist Party (PUP) (linked to paramilitary Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), the Northern Ireland Women’s Coalition (NIWC), the Ulster Democratic Party (UDP) and Labour. The agreement acknowledged two contradictory political realities — that the majority of those living in Northern Ireland wished to remain part of the UK, and that a substantial number of people in Northern Ireland as well as a majority on “the island of Ireland” wanted a united Ireland. Northern Ireland would remain part of the UK until or unless a majority of those living both in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland chose otherwise, in which case the two governments, British and Irish, would be obligated to implement a united Ireland. On the decommissioning of paramilitaries and normalization of British relations, particularly as embodied in the presence of British troops, the parties to the multi-party agreement committed to using “any influence they may have” to bring about the decommissioning while the British government agreed to reduce the number of troops there “to levels compatible with a normal peaceful society.” The agreement also created a commission to oversee policing and work to garner public support for these goals. The agreement also created a Northern Ireland assembly and a power-sharing executive utilizing a form of proportional representation.

19.4 Post-conflict Conditions Today

The Oslo Agreement outlined a path to peace for Israelis and Palestinians in 1993, ending the First Intifada begun in 1987 following the deaths of four Palestinians in a car hit by an Israeli Defense Force truck in the Jabalia refugee camp. South Africa began its transition to democracy in 1994. The Dayton Accords ended four years of civil war among former Yugoslav republics marked by violations of the Geneva conventions, the laws of warfare, and the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. The Troubles in Northern Ireland ended with the negotiation of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. Twenty to twenty-five years have now passed. How much progress toward conflict transformation has been made in these four cases? What follows is a view from 15,000 feet.

19.4.1 South Africa Today: Two Countries, Two Stories

As most people know, under apartheid, Black South Africans were forced to live in townships in dormitory-style housing originally built for same-sex (male) workers but later even more overcrowded when their families were moved in with them. Many others lived in informal housing or makeshift shanties. The post-apartheid government built more housing in the townships and many people moved to informal settlements on the outskirts of urban areas. The government defines formal and informal dwellings this way:

Formal dwelling refers to a structure built according to approved plans, i.e. house on a separate stand, flat or apartment, townhouse, room in backyard, rooms or flatlet elsewhere. Contrasted with informal dwelling and traditional dwelling… [An] Informal dwelling is a makeshift structure not erected according to approved architectural plans, for example shacks or shanties in informal settlements or in backyards. (Stats SA, 2016, p. 73)

The number of people living in informal housing is in decline, from 16.2% in 1996 to 13% 10 years later. About half of the Black South African population lives in townships, with Soweto, near Johannesburg, being the largest at 1.3 million. Black South Africans make up about 80% of the total population. Nearly 34% of South Africans lack reliable access to sanitation and for 6.8%, access to safe drinking water is a concern (World Population Review 2019). The Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliationreported in 2010 that “the country is exposed to high levels of violence as a result of different factors.” These include the normalization of violence which is viewed as a way of resolving conflict, a criminal justice system struggling with inefficiency, corruption and a subculture of criminality. These factors together with economic and community distress, including high rates of poverty, the report said, put many Black South African children at higher risk of becoming involved in criminality and violence. The report also notes that males are inclined to believe that coercive sexual behavior toward women is legitimate (Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation, 2010).

An online weekly newsletter entitled South Africa: the Good News, paints a rosier picture with its “Fast Facts” covering thirteen categories of data including political, economic and business, education, environmental, and corruption. It reports improvements in literacy rates, steadily increasing from 90% in the early 2000s to 94.3% in 2017; a drop in the percent of the population with no formal education; and a majority of South Africans regarding their health as “good or better” over the past 15 years. They also report that the number of households with electricity is growing (from 76.7% in 2002 to 84.4% in 2017) and improvement in access to sanitation with “the number of households with no toilet” declining from just over 12% to around three percent between 2002 and 2017. The ‘good news’ is also that hunger-vulnerable households has been cut by more than half, from 24.2% to 10.4% over the same period.

Are things better? When the author visited Kkayelitsha township near Cape Town in 2001, many people said that “for all I know apartheid has not ended. I don’t see any change in my living conditions.” At that time, in that township, there was one source of running water for about 19,000 people. More recently, a township resident said, in 2017, that she had:

… envisioned escaping the townships, where the government had forced black people to live. She aimed to find work in Cape Town, trading her shack for a home with modern conveniences.

More than two decades later, Ms. Sikade, 69, lives on the garbage‐strewn dirt of Crossroads township, where thousands of black families have used splintered boards and metal sheets to construct airless hovels for lack of anywhere else to live.

“I’ve gone from a shack to a shack,” Ms. Sikade says. “I’m fighting for everything I have. You still are living in apartheid.” (Goodman, 2017, n.p.)

In 2014, Archbishop Desmond Tutu had this to say about the success of conflict transformation:

I didn’t think there would be a disillusionment so soon. I’m glad that (Nelson Mandela) is dead. I’m glad that most of these people are no longer alive to see this,” a reference to a host of chronic problems such as corruption and poverty. (More, 2014, n.p.)

And here is a story from Khayelitsha just a few years ago, 20 years after the end of apartheid:

Outside her makeshift home in the sprawling township of Khayelitsha, on the eastern edge of Cape Town, barefoot children play on the banks of an open sewer, while cows roam next to an overflowing rubbish heap. Panyaza shares this tiny cabin with her two daughters and four grandchildren, a family of seven with two beds between them. “We can’t sleep at night because of the smell,” she says, speaking in Xhosa, a language peppered with clicks that echo the droplets beginning to drum on the corrugated metal roof. “I’m worried that the children are always getting sick.”

Twenty minutes’ drive to the west, the seventh course is being served at a banquet of assembled journalists, here to celebrate Cape Town’s title of World Design Capital 2014 on the terrace of a cliff-top villa. An infinity pool projects out towards the Atlantic horizon, as the setting sun casts a golden glow across the villa’s seamless planes, their surfaces sparkling with Namibian diamond dust mixed into the white concrete. Guests admire how the bath tub is carved from a solid block of marble, while security guards keep watch in front of a defensive ha-ha down below, ringed by an electric fence.

Apartheid may have ended 20 years ago, but here in Cape Town the sense of apartness remains as strong as ever. After decades of enforced segregation, the feeling of division is permanently carved into the city’s urban form, the physical legacy of a plan that was calculatedly designed to separate poor blacks from rich whites. (Wainwright, 2014)

19.4.2 Bosnia and Herzegovina and Republika Srpska: Two Entities, One State

The conservative US think tank, the Heritage Foundation, gave Bosnia and Herzegovina (including both entities) a score of 61.4 out of 100 on its economic freedom assessment in 2018 and ranked it 91st out of 186 countries, showing an unemployment rate of 25.8%. Factors influencing the Foundation’s assessment including that the country’s economy has been driven primarily by reconstruction, its government’s complexity and continued ethnic divisiveness has deadlocked political institutions, which has inadvertently fostered a “large informal economy,” and that nationalist parties exert too much influence over both the judicial and executive branches of government (Heritage Foundation, 2018).

The two entities use two different scripts, Cyrillic and Latin, and, for all purposes, two languages — Bosniak and Serbian. Although banned by the national Constitutional court and condemned by the EU and US, Bosnian Serbs celebrated “Statehood Day” on 9 January 2018. January 9 was the date in 1992 when Bosnian Serbs declared the founding of Republika Srpska and a precipitating event in the violence that escalated into the multi-front, multi-party civil war and wars of secession. Republika Srpska’s President Milorad Dodik who has repeatedly said that the Bosnian Serbs’ remain committed to eventual secession from Bosnia and Herzegovina, declared that “The Serb people have two states — Serbia and Republika Srpska — and we want to be one,” according to a Radio Free Europe report (RFE/RL Balkan Service, 2018). Nationalist rhetoric and “open questioning of Bosnia’s continued existence as a state” also marked the 2018 elections (Higgins, 2018).

Things are not much better in Serbia’s relations with Kosovo, which in many ways is where the flames of toxic nationalism were first inflamed by Slobodan Milosević. In December 2018, Kosovo’s legislative assembly voted unanimously to convert its emergency response force into a professional armed force with the 15 minority Serb members of the body boycotting the vote. While Kosovo’s sovereign independence is widely and internationally recognized, many consider this move to be provocative toward its former enemy, Serbia (RFE/RL,  14 December 2018).

A public opinion survey commissioned by the United Nations had this to say about how Bosnian Muslims, Croats, and Serbs assess present conditions when asked about reconciliation:

Almost 20 years after the end of the war, ethnic tensions are still immanent in BiH society. Within the survey, respondents were asked some questions in regards to this process – how they perceive the current state on this issue, what they think that needs to be done to end it successfully and how much time this process would take.

In general, respondents do not think that the process of reconciliation in BiH has been completed. The majority of the respondents think either that there was no reconciliation in BiH, or they describe the extent of reconciliation as small or partial. Serbs are more prone to state that reconciliation had no or had only a little progress in BiH, in comparison to Bosniaks and Croats. On the contrary, Bosniaks and Croats state more often than Serbs that there is a certain progress in reconciliation in this country, whereby Croats are more convinced in this than Bosniaks. (Prism Research, 2013)

19.4.3 Northern Ireland

One of the great challenges to conflict transformation in Northern Ireland is the de facto economic and social segregation of the two groups party to the conflict brought on by the independence of the Republic of Ireland and the partitioning of the North under the control of the United Kingdom. Irish Catholics and Irish Protestants still think of themselves as ‘Indigenous Irish’ and ‘citizens of the UK.’ For example, in the 2011 census, 39.9% of respondents identified as “British only” 25.3% identified as “Irish only,” and 20.9 identified as “Northern Irish only” (2011 Census, Northern Ireland, 2012). Catholic/Irish and Protestant/British inhabitants often live in segregated neighborhoods, attend different churches, and are often economically segregated by jobs that correspond with more or less education — labor and management, for example. In other words, people have few opportunities to interact with one another in normal roles of daily and civic life — churches and neighborhoods, shopping districts and in their working lives.

In a study of 18 young people from Northern Ireland over the period from 1997 to 2010, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation found that:

In the context of Northern Ireland, the concepts of security and risk take on meanings that are historically and locally specific, associated with conflict, policing, paramilitarism and territorialism. Although the ceasefire remained in place, sectarianism and paramilitary activity continued to have a significant impact on the lives of young people, particularly those living in working class areas. Their experience of space, place and mobility is often coloured by the fear or threat of violence or sectarianism, or the legacy of such experiences in their community. How they are able to use and move through the spaces and places of their local environment is central to their coping and survival strategies while growing up, and — as data from this project suggests — early experiences of conflict and sectarianism can influence future transitions. (McGrellis, 2011, p. 5)

The same report disturbingly notes the strong connection between the conflict — the Troubles — and present day identities:

There is evidence from this study and from other reports (BBC News, 28 July 2010) that some young people believe they have ‘missed out’ on the Troubles. Listening to older members of the community romanticizing or glorifying this period in Northern Ireland’s history (or, as Cynthia put it, “lapping up” the stories about the “good old days”), young people are being enticed into paramilitary groups and gangs, hoping to attain similar status, respect and position within their community thirty years from now. Community workers in Belfast report hearing young people wish they had been in jail, and observe that sections of society in Northern Ireland are becoming more divided and sectarian over time. (McGrellis, 2012, p. 26)

Ironically, one effect of the UK’s struggle with the Brexit move has spawned increased support for a united Ireland, according to an Irish Times story on recent polling: “The most recent opinion polls taken in the North shows … support ranging from 45 percent to 55 percent, and averaging around the 50 percent mark” (White, 2018).

19.4.4 Israel-Palestine

It is hard to imagine that any Palestinian, including Mahmoud Abbas, would have signed an agreement to allow an Israeli military occupation of the West Bank (and until 2005, Gaza as well), much less an occupation that would last 26 years so far and shows no sign of ending. True, Areas A and B are not internally occupied, but movement out of most of those areas when they border Area C, particularly, is entirely controlled by the Israeli government.

While the first, relatively peaceful intifada is often credited with bringing parties to the Oslo table, the failure of the Oslo Accords to move Palestinians toward self-determination and eventual statehood certainly played a role in precipitating the second, more violent intifada that started in September 2000. By 2002, the Israeli government responded full force in Operation Defensive Shield, which the Israeli government initiated following a suicide attack in Netanya that killed 30 vacationers. The Israeli government arrested some 2500 people in February and another 6000 by the end of March (Whitaker 2002). The Israeli Defense Force (IDF) entered and occupied six major cities in the West Bank, declaring them to be militarily closed and, according to a UN Report, both sides put Palestinian civilians at high risk, in some cases with civilian deaths equal to the deaths of combatants. Over 17,000 were left homeless with 878 homes destroyed and another 2800 damaged in the refugee camps.

The same year, Ariel Sharon approved the building of the wall or barrier, now 70% complete. In the words of Moshe Arens, the Prime Minister authorized the wall in “a moment of panic, a time of hysteria” (Arens, 2013). The former Minister of Defense opined that the decrease in Palestinian attacks on Israelis since then was more attributable to Operation Defensive Shield and the continued presence of the IDF in Areas B and C. The military offensive and occupation, he said, were “quite possibly the primary, and possibly the only reason, for the suppression of terrorist activity” (Arens, 2013, n.p.).

The two state solution is increasingly elusive in light of the “swiss cheese” jurisdictional arrangements in the three areas. Some on both sides advocate a one-state solution, though for varied and sometimes antithetical reasons. The Israeli right-wing no doubt would like to annex all of Area C and this is a strong motivator for continuing illegal settlements including roads from settlements directly to urban centers in Israel that entirely bypass and prohibit use by Palestinian villagers. But this would leave Areas A and B in a more or less Bantustan status. Others, including some of the more radical Israelis, support a single secular and democratic state.

Most or even all attacks in recent years were not carried out by any organized Palestinian opposition, according to the Israeli intelligence service the Shin Bet. Rather, individuals are motivated by despair. Although there is a committed and growing peace movement led and supported on both sides, it is difficult to see how its anti-occupation activity can be translated into political action since no center-left or left coalition in the Knesset has been able to produce a majority that can viably challenge the right-wing government of Benjamin Netanyahu. Looking to the future, there seems to be no end to occupation, denial, and despair.

19.5 Assessing Conflict Transformation in Four Peace Processes

Many looked to South Africa as an exemplar of nonviolent conflict transformation, or at least transition from a white supremacist non-democracy to an all-race democracy. Ending decades of apartheid under domestic and international pressure seems to have been easier than transitioning to a post-apartheid democracy where political and economic opportunities are open to all without regard to race. The key here is that ending or remedying the effects of the structural violence of economic inequality has hardly occurred at all, at least not perceptibly for most black South Africans, as the burgeoning shanty towns demonstrate. The vulnerability of single-party rule to corruption is taking a toll and what Tutu described as disillusionment is overtaking the hope and aspiration that characterized the initial democratization process.

In Bosnia things are not much better than they were at the end of the armed conflict, if at all. The Dayton agreements legitimized two entities with two languages, two governments, two identities, two economies, and affiliations of the entities with those who started the conflict as a means of dividing and annexing Bosnia and Herzegovina to their newly independent states. Right-wing secessionists control Republika Srpska, right-wing parties and leaders control Serbia and Croatia, and the only signs of unrest are from those further right or who advocate further right policies than those who currently hold power.

In spite of the persistent de facto socio-economic segregation in Northern Ireland and continuing signs that non-dualistic conflict identities remain relatively influential, especially among young people, there does also seem to be a ray of hope that, as the Good Friday agreements allowed, if or when a majority of those living in Northern Ireland support unification or at least union with the Republic rather than the UK, such a nationalist transition might take place and peacefully at that. How peacefully such a change might be would depend in large part on exactly how Protestant North Irish negotiate a relationship with their Catholic neighbors both in the North and in the North’s relationship with the Republic. This is not meant to suggest that such a change is inevitable, but both parties in the north (i.e. nationalists and unionists) seem at least open to a relationship with the Republic that continues to allow the fairly unhampered movement of people and goods across a border that Brexit would or could impede. This is an example of positive peace, encompassing consensus on social justice issues in addition to arrangements to end hostilities (negative peace).

Like South Africa, despair is a defining feature of the political climate in Palestine as well as among liberal Israeli Jews and peace activists who oppose the occupation and support Palestinian rights. The main difference here is the longevity of that despair. No less than the Shin Bet has identified despair, not organized political resistance, as the primary motivation for Palestinian attacks on Israelis over the past several years. Most of these attacks, by the way, are against uniformed officers of the Israeli state, not against civilians. Among the civilians who are attacked, a large number live in settlements in Area C and are regarded by most if not all Palestinians as instrumental to the occupation. As the reality for a two-state solution on the ground is, literally, slipping away with the “swiss cheese” looking jurisdiction in Area C and the increasingly Bantustan situation of the cities and towns in Areas A and B, there seems to be no way forward. At the same time, the occupation cannot go on forever, although as yet there is not a center or center-left coalition clearly opposed to it that could wrestle power from Netanyahu’s Likud-led ruling right-wing alliance.

Failure to achieve conflict transformation has social, political, and economic costs. Low-intensity conflict fueled by unreconciled or unacknowledged grievances continues with an ever-present potential to escalate. Politically, the failure to transform a conflict post-violence leaves the situation unstable with problems related to the perception of legitimacy (or illegitimacy) or the post-conflict political institutions (all four cases including anti-PA demonstrations in the last two years). The economic costs are primarily that human capital remains undeveloped, unemployment is high, people are undereducated, and a failure to address the structural violence that almost always or always accompanies direct violence means that many people do not see any difference in their quality of life during and after the violent conflict has ended. A key question here – one that could be taken up in a more thorough and comparative study, concerns the role of Nongovernmental Organizations or NGOs and grassroots peacebuilding organizations and whether their efforts to transform a conflict through people-to-people peacemaking might be able to succeed where institutions and political leaders fail.

Resources and References


Key Points

  • Our current understanding of conflict transformation as applied to peace processes is not well-developed.
  • Conflict transformation involves both negative and positive peace; without positive peace in the form of economic opportunity and economic justice its chances of success are limited.
  • Conflicts often implicate identities, and identities consist of narratives that may reflect who people are in relation to the conflict; new identities and narratives that are inclusive are critical to transforming conflict.
  • Acknowledging and engaging dialogue about grievances is important in transforming conflict, but it is not enough without addressing the need for positive peace.
  • Without transforming conflicts, despair can undermine negative peace.


Extension Activities & Further Research

Choose one of the conflicts covered in this chapter and:

  1. Propose amendments to or an alternative agreement at the time of the peace agreements or, in the case of South Africa, to the new constitution and/or accompanying laws.
  2. Show how your alternative or amendments remedy deficiencies as the process has played out over the next several decades.
  3. Suggest how international organisations or non-governmental organisations could play a supporting role in achieving conflict transformation.

List of Terms

See Glossary for full list of terms and definitions.

  • alternative dispute resolution (ADR)
  • African National Congress (ANC)
  • Alliance Party
  • apartheid
  • asymmetrical peace agreements
  • asymmetry of power
  • Bosnia
  • Brexit
  • conflict management
  • conflict resolution
  • conflict transformation
  • de facto socio-economic segretation
  • formal dwellings
  • hudna
  • Indigenous peoples
  • Indigenous-settler relations
  • informal housing
  • intifada
  • Irish Republican Army (IRA)
  • nationalist (Northern Ireland)
  • negative peace
  • Norther Ireland Women’s Coalition (NIWC)
  • Operation Defensive Shield
  • peace process
  • Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO)
  • positive peace
  • Progressive Unionist Party (PUP)
  • retributive justice
  • secession
  • shanty towns
  • Shin Bet
  • Sinn Féin
  • Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP)
  • sulha
  • townships
  • the Troubles
  • Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC)
  • Ulster Democratic Party (UDP)
  • Ulster Unionist Party (UUP)
  • Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF)
  • unionists
  • West Bank
  • white supremacist government

Suggested Reading

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Cochrane, F. (2013). Northern Ireland: The reluctant peace. Yale University Press.

Johnson, R. W. (2015). How long will South Africa survive?: The looming crisis. Hurst Publishers.

Trebincevic, K., & Shapiro, S. (2014). The Bosnia list: A memoir of war, exile, and return. Penguin Books.


Adwan, S., Bar-On, D., Naveh, E., & Peace Research Institute in the Middle East. (Eds.). (2012). Side by side: Parallel histories of Israel-Palestine. The New Press.

Arens, M. (2013, March 4). Tear down this wall. Haaretz. https://www.haaretz.com/opinion/.premium-moshe-arens-tear-down-this-fence-1.5232455

BBC News. (2010, July 28). Northern Ireland’s grand plan to tackle sectarianism. https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-northern-ireland-10786657

Burton, J. W. (1990a). Conflict: Resolution and prevention. St. Martin’s Press.

Burton, J. W. (Ed.). (1990b). Conflict: Human needs theory. Palgrave Macmillan.

Burton, J. W. (1993). Conflict resolution as a political philosophy. In D. J. D. Sandole & H. van der Merwe (Eds.), Conflict resolution theory and practice: Integration and application (pp. 55–64). Manchester University Press.

Burton, J. W. (1997). Violence explained: The sources of conflict, violence and crime and their prevention. Manchester University Press.

Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation. (2010). Tackling armed violence: Key findings and recommendations of the study on the violent nature of crime in South Africa. https://www.csvr.org.za/publications/2456-tackling-armed-violence-key-findings-and-recommendations-of-the-study-on-the-violent-nature-of-crime-in-south-africa

Cochrane, F. (2013). Northern Ireland: The reluctant peace. Yale University Press.

Frazer, O., & Ghettas, L. (Eds.). (2013). Conflict transformation in practice: Approaches to conflict transformation – Lessons from Algeria, Denmark, Egypt, Kenya, Morocco, Tajikistan and Yemen. Cordoba Now Forum. https://www.cordoue.ch/en/publications-mega/research-papers/386-conflict-transformation-in-practice

Goodman, P. S. (2017, October 24). End of apartheid in South Africa? Not in economic terms. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/24/business/south-africa-economy-apartheid.html

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The Heritage Foundation. (2018). 2020 Index of Economic Freedom: Bosnia and Herzegovina. Retrieved January 19, 2018, from https://www.heritage.org/index/country/bosniaherzegovina

Higgins, A. (2018, November 19). In Bosnia, entrenched ethnic divisions are a warning to the world. New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/19/world/europe/mostar-bosnia-ethnic-divisions-nationalism.html

Johnson, R. W. (2015). How long will South Africa survive? The looming crisis. Hurst Publishers.

Kriesberg, L., & Dayton, B. W. (2011). Constructive conflicts: From escalation to resolution (4th ed.). Rowman & Littlefield.

Lederach, J. P. (2003). Conflict transformation. Beyond Intractability. https://www.beyondintractability.org/essay/transformation (Reprinted from The little book of conflict transformation, 2003, Good Books)

McGrellis, S. (2011). Growing up in Northern Ireland. Joseph Rowntree Foundation. https://www.jrf.org.uk/report/growing-northern-ireland

Myre, G. (2014, May 6). 20 years after apartheid, South Africa asks, ‘How are we doing?’ National Public Radio. https://www.npr.org/sections/parallels/2014/05/06/310095463/20-years-after-apartheid-south-africa-asks-how-are-we-doing

Nardelli, A., Dzidic, D., & Jukic, E. (2014, October 8). Bosnia and Herzegovina: The world’s most complicated system of government? The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/news/datablog/2014/oct/08/bosnia-herzegovina-elections-the-worlds-most-complicated-system-of-government

Northern Ireland Neighbourhood Information Service. (2011). 2011 census analysis. http://www.ninis2.nisra.gov.uk/public/census2011analysis/index.aspx

Pennington, S. (2019). South Africa fast facts. South Africa: The Good News. https://www.sagoodnews.co.za/sa-fast-facts/

Radio Free Europe & Radio Liberty. (2018, January 9). Defying court ban, Republika Srpska goes ahead with ‘Statehood Day’. https://www.rferl.org/a/republika-srpska-statehood-day-defying-court-ban/28964699.html

RFE & RL. (2018, December 14). Lawmakers in Kosovo approve creation of army, inflaming tensions with Serbia. https://www.rferl.org/a/kosovo-parliament-army-ksf-serbia-vote/29655480.html

Richardson, L. F. (1960). Statistics of deadly quarrels. Boxwood Press.

Rummel, R. J. (1975). Understanding conflict and war. John Wiley & Sons.

Rummel, R. J. (1977). Conflict in perspective (Understanding conflict and war). Sage Publications.

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Trebincevic, K., & Shapiro, S. (2014). The Bosnia list: A memoir of war, exile, and return. Penguin Books.

United Nations Resident Coordinator’s Office in Bosnia and Herzegovina. (2013). Public opinion poll results: Analitical (sic) report. www.undp.org/content/dam/unct/bih/PDFs/Prism%20Research%20for%20UN%20RCO_Statistical%20report.pdf

Wainwright, O. (2014, April 30). Apartheid ended 20 years ago, so why is Cape Town still ‘a paradise for the few’? The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2014/apr/30/cape-town-apartheid-ended-still-paradise-few-south-africa

Whitaker, B. (2002, August 2). UN report details West Bank wreckage. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2002/aug/02/israel

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World Population Review. (2020). South Africa population 2020. Retrieved January 25, 2019, from http://worldpopulationreview.com/countries/south-africa-population/

Zhoughbi, Z., & Rainey, D. (Eds.). (2013). Sulha: Community based mediation in Palestine. Hollistic Solutions.



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