Northern Ireland politician Gerry Adams arrives in Tel Aviv Tuesday to a cool reception from the government, which is refusing to meet the controversial leader of the IRA-linked Sinn Fein party. West Belfast MP Adams, due to spend two days in the area at the invitation of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, will be meeting with Palestinian Legislative Council members, among them Hamas parliamentarians.
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Israel said Adams wouldn't be received by any officials here since he was meeting Hamas members. Adams is scheduled, however, to meet privately with a forum of Israeli and Palestinian NGOs, which includes representatives from the Peres Center for Peace.
Sinn Fein approached the Israeli embassy in Dublin to request a meeting with government officials but was rebuffed, according to Adams's press secretary, Richard McAuley.
"We were informed that their [Israel's] position is if you meet with Hamas, we won't meet with you," McAuley told The Jerusalem Post.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev confirmed that Israel had rejected the request because of the scheduled meeting with Hamas. "There is a cabinet decision that foreign visitors who are going to meet with Hamas officials don't get meetings on our side," Regev explained.
"We are obviously disappointed," McAuley said. "We think this decision is wrong. One thing we have learned from our process is the importance of dialogue and speaking to political opponents."
Peres Center Director-General Ron Pundak also said he thought Israel was wrong not to meet with Adams, who has indicated he is visiting in part to urge Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation.
"Personally, I think it's a mistake," Pundak said. "We are not gaining anything if we boycott someone like him."
"It is imperative that genuine negotiation and dialogue between the representatives of the Palestinian and Israeli people commences as quickly as possible," Adams said ahead of the trip. "While no two conflicts are identical, there are key conflict resolution principles which can be applied in any situation. These include inclusive dialogue, respect for electoral mandates, and respect for human rights and international law."
Pundak also said that Israel should overlook the historical connections between the IRA and the Palestine Liberation Organization, which went so far as to include allegations of joint training.
An Irish nationalist political party, Sinn Fin is linked to the Provisional Irish Republican Army, a paramilitary group which sought to end Northern Ireland's status within the United Kingdom and bring about a united Ireland by the use of violence. Adams helped lead a peace process that has effectively reduced violence and given greater political power to parties such as Sinn Fein.
"In the past there were many ugly things," Pundak said. "I don't think there are any relations with Hamas and Islamic Jihad today."
Regev said he believed Israel would have met with Adams had it not been for the meetings scheduled with Hamas, though he added that he wasn't aware of a formal government decision on the matter.
Regev also reiterated Israel's position that Hamas must comply with international demands that it renounce violence, disarm and adhere to past agreements between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, which it now governs.
But McAuley said that Hamas has "an elected mandate. They won the election. We all have differences with elected opponents. But you have only two choices: fight or talk. Our experience has taught us that the best way is to talk. War is not an option." He added that Sinn Fein respected the rights and entitlements of both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
McAuley said the Sinn Fein delegation was coming to Israel and the Palestinian territories "not to lecture and pontificate, but to share our experience."
Pundak asserted that both Israelis and Palestinians could learn from Northern Ireland's example. He noted that the two regions began reconciliation programs at around the same time. "The Irish were more successful and ran faster in implementing the agreement, unlike us, unfortunately," he said.
AP contributed to this report.