That has heightened the consternation at news of the meetings.
“This is very disheartening to us here in Gaza,” Haidar Eid, a university professor and member of the steering committee of PACBI, the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, told The Electronic Intifada.
“We call on Irish comrades to condemn these meetings in the strongest possible terms,” Eid said, urging that people write to Sinn Féin leaders and “even disrupt any future visits by Israeli officials.”
“War criminals and racist organizations should not be welcomed in the new Ireland,” Eid added.
“I personally met with the Sinn Féin delegation headed by Gerry Adams after the 2009 Israeli attack on Gaza, and the support they showed at the time was enormous,” Eid said. “They even welcomed our BDS – boycott, divestment and sanctions – call and promised to take the issue further upon their return to Ireland.”
Eid expressed outrage that Sinn Féin is now receiving delegations from “one of the most racist parties in Israel, one that openly calls for ethnic cleansing and apartheid and whose ministers have committed war crimes in Israel’s latest attack on Gaza in 2014.”
He praised Irish activists for their strong support of Palestine: “Our ties with the Irish people are an example of what true solidarity means. Irish civil society sectors including trade unions have heeded our call for BDS.”
That solidarity has always gone both ways, Eid said: “Irish people had our support when they needed it. Sinn Féin leaders know this very well.”
Meetings in Belfast
This was only one of several meetings Sinn Féin officials have held with Likud counterparts in recent years.
Pat Sheehan, a West Belfast legislator in the Northern Ireland Assembly, also met Likud officials in June.
According to the Belfast newspaper The Irish News the meetings have been held under the auspices of London-based think tank Forward Thinking.
Forward Thinking says that its “Irish Peace Process Program” is an “initiative which brings delegations from key constituencies in Israel to Northern Ireland to discuss experiences of the conflict and peace process.”
In a statement posted on the party’s website, Sheehan defended the meetings, saying that “dialogue is essential in dealing with issues in the Middle East and that Sinn Féin will continue to raise the concerns of the Palestinian people in all forums and at all levels.”
“Sinn Féin’s record of supporting the Palestinian people is clear and consistent,” the statement added. “Any meetings between Sinn Féin representatives and Israeli political parties are on the basis of critical engagement.”
“Those who represent the Palestinian people are aware that we raise these issues at all levels and wish us to do so,” Sheehan stated, apparently claiming Palestinian cover for the Likud meetings.
While Sheehan did not specify who these Palestinian representatives are, it is notable that the Palestinian BDS National Committee, the broad coalition that spearheads the BDS movement, recently strongly condemned the Palestinian Authority for tacitly facilitating normalization between Israel and other countries.
Sinn Féin’s policies are arguably contradictory. The party campaigns for the end of British-imposed partition in Ireland, but it supports the so-called two-state solution for Palestine. That “solution” is a recipe for partitioning historic Palestine.
In a separate statement emailed to The Electronic Intifada, Sinn Féin’s central press office offered similar justifications to those given by Sheehan.
“However, we welcome, respect and understand the genuine views expressed and will certainly take them on board as we continue to assist the Palestinian people in their struggle for freedom,” the party added in apparent acknowledgment of the outpouring of opposition the Likud meetings have generated.
And in a twist of irony, as Sinn Féin’s Sheehan was justifying the meetings in Belfast, a Sinn Féin elected official in the South of Ireland criticized Clare County Council for allowing the Israeli ambassador to visit its chambers this month.
After learning about the low-profile visit, Mike McKee, a Sinn Féin councillor, said: “I certainly would not have been in support of it.” He added: “Many people in Clare would have great reservations about welcoming the ambassador of a state that has killed from the year 2000 almost 10,000 Palestinians and of that 2,000 are children.”
PSCABI, the Palestinian Students’ Campaign for the Academic Boycott of Israel, said in a statement sent to The Electronic Intifada from Gaza that it was “deeply disappointed” to hear about the meeting between the Likud delegation and Sinn Féin youth.
“It is more shocking that this delegation was welcomed to Ireland in order to talk about ‘peace,’” PSCABI said. “Let us, occupied Palestinians, ask what do you mean by peace when the Israeli war machine is taking our children’s lives and subjecting us to all kinds of horror under deafening international silence?”
“For 10 years, we have been under a brutal, medieval siege interspersed by three barbaric wars launched by apartheid Israel,” PSCABI said. “As students, whose entire educational system has been devastated as a result of Israel’s long and ongoing blockade, we strongly condemn Sinn Féin receiving the Israeli delegation.”
“From under the most brutal siege humanity has witnessed during this modern age, we urge Irish people and Sinn Féin to boycott Israel and to stop normalizing with the Israeli racist colonizer,” PSCABI stated.
That siege not only prevents Palestinian students getting out but blocks solidarity visits as well: in December 2014, for instance, Israel refused to allow Sinn Féin president Adams to enter Gaza.
When do you talk?
In its 2015 annual report, Forward Thinking criticizes the “failure of successive peace initiatives to reach out on the one side to the ultra-religious and ideological right parties in Israel, and on the other side to groups like Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.”
Its staff have also met representatives of Hamas.
But while inclusion of all parties – especially those like Sinn Féin once ostracized as “terrorists” – is a key lesson from the Irish peace process, such inclusion has only borne fruit when all parties, especially the more powerful, have recognized the need for a fundamental and transformative change.
That readiness for transformation has historically arrived – as in Ireland and apartheid South Africa, settler-colonial situations with important similarities to Palestine – when the key protagonists have recognized that they are in a stalemate that further armed conflict cannot break.
That is certainly true for Hamas, which has repeatedly made far-reaching offers to Israel to end armed conflict and establish a long-term truce along the 1967 lines that could pave the way for a future political agreement.
But it cannot by any stretch be said of Israel.
The only transformation the Likud believes in and practices is accelerating Israel’s aggressive colonization of the West Bank with Jewish-only settlements, and turning Gaza into an ever more isolated and brutalized ghetto.
Meanwhile the Likud-led government continues to pass discriminatory laws and policies against Palestinian citizens of Israel that would be immediately recognizable to Irish nationalists and Catholics who lived under the oppressive yoke of the British-backed “Protestant state for a Protestant people” that long existed in Ireland’s North.
Israel will not reach the conclusions that the parties in Ireland or South Africa did, which enabled transformative peace agreements, without sustained pressure that raises the price of what is still for Israel a comfortable and manageable status quo.
That’s the logic behind BDS, the Palestinian-led campaign for freedom, justice and equality.
That is why Sinn Féin’s continued meetings with Likud in the context of unrelenting Israeli aggression undermine the Palestinian struggle the party says it supports.