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Apart from the visible return of a spectre that never truly went away, the return of violence to Northern Ireland leaves the British government with a precedent deficit. Whole careers are now based on the idea that the "peace process" in Northern Ireland is the paradigm by which all other conflicts can be solved. Godwin's law states that the first person in an argument who cites the Nazis or Hitler loses. I am wondering about setting up a comparable law in counter-terrorism discussions with regard to Northern Ireland.

At present, through groups like Conflicts Forum and Forward Thinking, the former Northern Ireland minister Michael Ancram travels around cosying up to terrorists, citing his credentials in Northern Ireland. The non-Muslim Islamist (and former MI6 man) Alastair Crooke manages to blur the lines between diplomacy and advocacy using the same delusion. Other ex-spooks, known and unknown, are doing the same. And most famously, Tony Blair - biggest beneficiary of all - is peace envoy in the Middle East largely on the strength of his contribution to peace in Northern Ireland.

Even before the recent killings, the premise was flawed. By its logic, the best that the West will be able to hope for from the Palestinian people is that they can produce a Martin McGuinness or Gerry Adams. Going on the Northern Ireland precedent, we should have to wait until the moment when the bloodiest-handed terrorist that Hamas can produce takes a step forward and says he wants to negotiate. At which point we welcome him and help him to become Deputy First Minister of some kind of future Palestinian state.

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