Stavanger, Norway - Israeli President Shimon Peres was met by political anger and protests over his country's policies in the occupied territories during a visit to Norway Monday.
The 90-year-old Peres, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994 for his role in trying to bring Israel and the Palestinians together in Norwegian-mediated peace talks known as the Oslo Accords, is the first Israeli head of state to visit the country.
Norway's King Harald, who plays a ceremonial role and is not part of the government, welcomed Peres to the royal palace on Monday as police dispersed demonstrators outside. More protests were planned by 24 organizations.
“When the government invites the Israeli president on a state visit, one can only ask what signal Norway wants to send,” said Kathrine Jensen, head of the Norwegian Palestine Committee. She demanded that the Norwegian government “condemn Israeli occupation policy and their human rights abuses.”
Norwegian-Israeli relations have soured over the past decade as Norway's left-leaning governments took a critical stance against Israel. Unlike many western countries, Norway refused to classify Gaza's Islamic Hamas rulers as terrorists, and the government's rich oil fund has divested shares in companies accused of contributing to building Israeli homes in the West Bank.
Peres, who as foreign minister shared the peace prize in 1994 with the late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, appeared unfazed by the protests.
He told reporters after meeting King Harald that he enjoyed visiting Norway, which he described as “a pearl of humanity.”
Despite the recent collapse of US-backed Mideast peace talks, Peres said the chance for peace has not been lost.
“Neither we nor the Palestinians have any other alternative but peace,” Norwegian broadcaster NRK quoted Peres as saying in a speech at an Oslo synagogue.