Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Chronicle Of A Peace Process....Back To Legality

The peace process in the Basque country still faces a bumpy road. The most recent declaration by ETA included what many observers saw as a clear threat to return to action if the current police and judicial pressure on ETA was maintained. It is not always easy to know exactly what is going on behind the scenes in this kind of process, but the main sticking point at the moment which is preventing further advances is the way in which Batasuna, ETA’s political wing, finds a way back to legal operation as a political party. The government is insisting that they must do this via the “Ley de Partidos”, the law that was introduced by the previous government with the specific aim of illegalizing Batasuna. This would effectively require the formation of a new party with statutes that would probably have to include an explicit rejection of political violence. According to press reports today, the Batasuna leadership is coming under pressure from their supporters not to accept this solution, and there is also concern that following this path will not remove the judicial pressure on some of their leaders.

The return to legality of Batasuna is really the launch pad for the rest of the process, and they would like to be legal in time to take part in the municipal elections in May next year. There are hints that together with their legalization could come some concessions on the issue of ETA prisoners, which as a first step would probably involve prisoners being moved closer to the Basque country. With a right wing opposition ready to jump on anything they can present as a “concession to terrorists”, the government will be reluctant to give way to Batasuna demands and repudiate the Ley De Partidos. On the other hand, Batasuna’s leaders need to be able to show that the process brings benefits. ETA’s warning reminded me of the failure of the first IRA ceasefire in the UK, when John Major’s government thought that by moving as slowly as possible they would just reach a stage where the IRA would find it impossible to return to armed activity. They were wrong, and it doesn't look at the moment like the same mistake will be made in Spain, but deadlock on an issue like the legality of Batasuna could lead down a similar road.

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