Irish FM visit likely not sign of change on Israel

Visit by Eamon Gilmore, in Israel for three-day regional tour, unlikely reflection of changing positions.

Irish Foreign Minister Eamon Gilmore 311 (photo credit: Mike Segar / Reuters)
Irish Foreign Minister Eamon Gilmore 311
(photo credit: Mike Segar / Reuters)
Eamon Gilmore, the foreign minister of Ireland – the country widely considered Israel’s toughest critic inside the European Union – arrived in Israel Thursday night for a three-day regional visit.
Diplomatic officials were careful not to read too much significance into the visit, although they said there has been a positive trend in Israeli-Irish ties since Irish elections in February. According to some assessments, if until those elections Ireland scored a “zero” on a scale of zero-to-10 regarding warmth toward Israel, with the new government the needle has been pushed to 1.5.
Ireland is among the leaders within EU bodies promoting policies critical of Israel, and can be counted to vote consistently against Israel at the UN and other international forums.
Gilmore’s visit comes fast on the heels of a trip to that country last week by Knesset speaker Reuven Rivlin. Though that visit did not go off without incident – Rivlin was forced to use a backdoor entrance to the parliament because of pro-Palestinian protesters – it was the highest level visit by an Israeli dignitary there since 1985.
According to a report in The Irish Times, Rivlin said during his visit that while Israelis were enamored of Irish culture, music and dancing, “we are very much disappointed, from our point of view, because of the attitude of people in the Irish government against Israel.”
Diplomatic officials said that the screening in Dublin last month of an Israeli film week, even though it generated domestic protests and controversy, was a positive sign of an improvement in ties. The Irish, the officials said, made sure the festival would take place, despite the angry backlash. Gilmore himself attended and even spoke at the festival.
The first stop on Gilmore’s visit Friday will be the Gaza Strip, where he is expected to visit projects funded by the international community and meet with civil society representatives not affiliated with Hamas.
In December 2009, Jerusalem’s decision not to allow a visit from Israel to Gaza by then Irish foreign minister Michael Martin led to tension between the governments.
Martin told a parliamentary committee at the time that Israel was trying to hide the situation in Gaza.
Israel’s position on visits to Gaza of visiting dignitaries has since changed, and it no longer has any opposition as long as the visitors do not meet Hamas officials. The EU’s official position is that it will not engage with Hamas until that organization renounces terrorism, recognizes Israel and accepts previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements.
On Saturday Gilmore is expected to travel to Ramallah for meetings with the top Palestinian leadership there. Saturday night he will host a reception at the Herzliya home of the Irish ambassador and meet with MK Isaac Herzog (Labor). Herzog’s father, Chaim Herzog, Israel’s sixth president, was born in Belfast, and his grandfather, Yitzhak Herzog, was Ireland’s chief rabbi from 1919 to 1937.
On Sunday, after going to the Yad Vashem, Gilmore is scheduled to meet separately with Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, Intelligence Agencies Minister Dan Meridor and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
While Gilmore will be sleeping two nights during his stay at the home of his country’s ambassador, a third night in Jerusalem will be spent at the Legacy Hotel in the eastern part of the city. Gilmore is one of only a handful of foreign ministers who have opted to stay in east Jerusalem during their stay here.