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Irish politician Gerry Adams, president of the Sinn Fein party, will on Wednesday speak to Palestinian politicians, some of them from Hamas, about the need for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and for a dialogue to achieve it.
Adams is also urging Israel to open a dialogue with Hamas and wants the European Union to drop its endorsement of Israel's conditions for such a dialogue - conditions that include Hamas recognizing Israel, abandoning terrorism and accepting previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements.
In a telephone interview with The Jerusalem Post immediately after his arrival Tuesday on his first visit to the area, Adams said that "the strategic interest and security and prosperity of Israel are directly connected to the Israeli people acknowledging the security and rights of the people of Palestine."
He stressed his contention that the conflict could only be resolved via a two-state solution, and said there could be "no legitimacy for Palestinian suicide bombings." He said he would make these points to the Palestinian politicians with whom he would be meeting, and would have made all the same arguments to Israeli politicians had they agreed to meet with him.
"I'm not here to sculpt different sound-bytes" for different audiences, he said. "I'll say to Hamas that the abduction of Israeli soldiers is wrong. I'll speak of the need to respect mandates, a two-state solution, the need for dialogue."
But there was "no point" in excluding groups such as Hamas from dialogue, he went on, when the only constructive way forward for both sides lay precisely through dialogue. "You have to build an alternative that takes people away from armed action - whether it is suicide bombings or dropping thousands of tons of explosives," he said pointedly.
Stressing that he wanted to be "humble" on what was intended as a "learning visit" and that he was not drawing direct parallels between the conflict here and that over Northern Ireland, Adams noted nonetheless that, in the past, supporters of independent Irish rule throughout the island had been offered no alternative but "armed action." Now "there is an alternative," he said, via the Irish peace process, and a similar process had to take place here.
Moreover, he noted, Hamas had won "fair and free elections" to govern the Palestinian people, had a "democratic mandate," and therefore should not be isolated by the international community. "Withholding of funding [from the Palestinian Authority] will only affect the citizens. It's morally wrong and it's tactically and strategically wrong. It polarizes and radicalizes."
When it was put to Adams that many Israelis supported Palestinian statehood but were facing a Hamas leadership that insistently denied Israel's right to exist, and that many Israelis were concerned that the Palestinians were seeking a state instead of, rather than alongside, Israel, Adams said even such problems were surmountable.
"It isn't beyond our wit to work out all these issues," he said, again drawing on the Northern Ireland experience to stress how swift the transition had been from a routine of "deadly killings" and a "militarized society" to a more peaceful era.
As to the suggestion that Palestinian extremism - including a readiness to kill and be killed that was founded in part in a perceived religious imperative - could not be resolved using conflict-resolution methods that had worked elsewhere, Adams said he acknowledged that the conflict here had been worse over the past 30 years than in Ireland.
But it fell to the international community, and notably the European Union, he said, to aid people who were "boxed into conflict" - to intervene "and say, 'Let's try to bring some sense.'"
He said he was "against fundamentalism of any kind" but was "for all the great religions" with their emphasis on "human dignity."
The Irish republican leader, who has always denied allegations of former membership in the IRA, said his aides had approached Israel's embassy in Dublin to discuss possible meetings here with Israeli politicians. "The ambassador was very positive," he said, but ruled out any meetings because of Adams's readiness to meet with Hamas leaders.
"I disagree with that position," he repeated, "but I stress that I don't think I have any special privileges or panaceas or magic formulas."
The Anglo-Irish situation had shown, however, that the way out of "bloodshed and atrocities and killings and violence" was through dialogue and that "some of these modalities, no matter how difficult, are universal.
"Governments have to be about building hope and enabling normal life," he went on. "And there needs to be debate on the Palestinian side as well."