Can Northern Ireland's Leaders Learn to Trust?

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Forget about love for now. The immediate question facing Northern Ireland's political leaders is whether they can learn to trust each other enough to make their arranged marriage work. The troubled region's warring factions are set to finally launch a new government for the territory Monday, after the pro-Britain Ulster Unionists agreed Saturday to stand down from their refusal to allow the creation of the Northern Ireland Assembly before the IRA begins disarming. The assembly — and the cabinet it is expected to appoint by Thursday — were conceived in last year's Good Friday agreement, but appeared to have been stillborn this summer when the Unionists refused to take their seats.

The agreement may not be enough to keep the peace in the long term, however. The Mideast experience shows that without political trust on both sides, agreements aren't worth the paper they're written on — and since in Ireland, like in Israel and its environs, there are plenty of hard men on both sides who have every intention of sabotaging the agreement through acts of violence, the political resolve of the peacemakers will likely be subjected to some brutal tests. Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble gambled his own political future over the weekend to sell his rebellious rank and file a deal in which IRA disarmament followsrather than precedes the creation of a new government. In the end, securing his party's agreement required the qualifier from Trimble that he and his delegation would walk out of the new structure if the IRA doesn't start handing over the Semtex by next February, a condition that immediately drew howls of protest from the IRA-aligned Sinn Fein. And with the Rev. Ian Paisley's hard-line Democratic Unionists looking to eat away at Trimble's base by appealing to skeptical members of his party, the stage is set for a nervous winter as men of martial instinct try to govern alongside their erstwhile foes, even while provocateurs do their best to foment violence out on the streets.