DUBLIN, Ireland – Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams announced plans Sunday for his first trip to Israel and the Palestinian territories, including a visit with leaders of Israel's arch-enemies in Hamas.
Adams, whose Irish Republican Army-linked party has grown in recent years to become the major representative of Northern Ireland's Catholic minority, said he hoped his visit Tuesday through Thursday would encourage compromise between Israel and Hamas.
"It is imperative that genuine negotiation and dialogue between the representatives of the Palestinian and Israeli people commences as quickly as possible," Adams said. "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."
Adams said he had been invited to the region by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, leader of the Fatah movement that Hamas defeated in elections earlier this year. The two rival forces are currently negotiating about potentially forming a coalition government.
The Sinn Fein chief said he also planned to meet Hamas leaders of the Palestine Legislative Council and deliver a speech at a peace center named in honor of Shimon Peres, Israel's current vice premier, who was a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994.
Adams' planned visit is being viewed negatively in Washington, where Republican congressmen normally supportive of Sinn Fein don't want Adams to be seen supporting Hamas, which refuses to recognize Israel's right to exist. The administration of President George W. Bush has been mulling whether to lift its ban on Sinn Fein fund-raising among Irish-Americans, a restriction in force since 2005, when international authorities blamed the IRA for robbing a Belfast bank and knifing to death a Belfast Catholic.
But Adams stressed that Sinn Fein wanted to be seen helping factions in other long-deadlocked conflicts to draw inspiration from the largely successful peace process in Northern Ireland. The past 38 years of conflict over the British territory has claimed more than 3,600 lives, but has largely abated since the IRA began a cease-fire in 1997.
The IRA, which was responsible for about 1,775 of the killings, last year renounced violence for political purposes and disarmed. But a central goal of Northern Ireland's 1998 peace accord — a joint Catholic-Protestant administration for Northern Ireland that includes Sinn Fein — has been on hold since 2002.
Adams, 58, was interned as an IRA suspect in the early 1970s and was a negotiator in an IRA delegation with Britain in 1972 — a time when he held no significant position in Sinn Fein, which at the time was a powerless adjunct to the IRA. Despite this, Adams has always denied IRA membership. Irish Justice Minister Michael McDowell says police intelligence indicates Adams remained on the IRA's seven-man command until last year.
As leader of Sinn Fein since 1983, Adams has steered the long-isolated party slowly into the political mainstream. His party in 2003 became No. 1 among Catholics north of the Irish border, and is hoping to gain enough parliamentary seats in the Republic of Ireland next year to help form the next coalition government here.