No Moscow meeting planned for Netanyahu and Abbas

Israel to officially transfer ownership of J’lem landmark to Russia before Netanyahu trip.

By
March 22, 2011 07:40
3 minute read.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu

Netanyahu smiling 311. (photo credit: Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

Both Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and PA President Mahmoud Abbas are scheduled to be in Moscow at the same time later this week, but both Israeli and Russian officials say there is no plan for the two to meet there.

The Kremlin announced on Friday that Abbas would be in Russia from Tuesday to Thursday and was scheduled to meet Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on Tuesday.

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Netanyahu is scheduled to leave for Moscow Wednesday evening, and to hold talks with Medvedev, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Thursday.

One Israeli official said Netanyahu was willing to meet Abbas anywhere, but that this was not the purpose of his visit to Moscow. He said the purpose was to discuss bilateral issues with the Russian leadership.

The Kremlin has a penchant for inviting Israeli and Palestinian leaders around the same time. Netanyahu last visited the Kremlin in February 2010, when he was preceded by both Abbas, who was there two weeks earlier, and Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal, who was there just a matter of days before Netanyahu.

The timing of those visits led to speculation that Moscow was trying to create the impression that it was a major broker in the region and able to engage with all the parties to the conflict.

Medvedev visited Jericho via Jordan in January, but did not come to Jerusalem on an official visit because of a Foreign Ministry work stoppage at the time. Diplomatic officials said Netanyahu’s visit this week was meant to make up for that lost visit.

Netanyahu’s trip comes just three weeks after Russia declared it was going ahead with plans to sell Syria the Yakhont anti-ship cruise missile, and this issue – as well as other security-related topics – is expected to figure prominently in the prime minister’s talks.

Before the prime minister’s departure, Israel is expected to officially hand over Sergei’s Courtyard in Jerusalem to Russian control. In 2008, before a visit by then-prime minister Ehud Olmert to Russia, the cabinet approved the transfer of ownership of the Czarist-era landmark in the center of the capital to the Russian government.

The building, which houses offices of the Agriculture Ministry and the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, was built in 1890 to accommodate Russian pilgrims visiting the Holy Land and was named after Tsar Alexander II’s son, Sergei Alexandrovich.

Israel acquired some 90 percent of the Russian Compound in 1964, paying the former Soviet Union $3.5 million. The purchase was dubbed the “Orange Deal” because Israel, lacking hard currency, paid the Russians in citrus fruit. Sergei’s Courtyard, however, was part of the remaining 10% not covered in the deal, and Putin made regaining the property a priority when he was Russia’s president.

Senior diplomatic officials denied reports that the Kremlin had told Netanyahu not to come to Moscow unless the property was officially transferred to Russia’s control.

“No requests were made by the Russians,” the official said, adding that the Prime Minister’s Office on its own wanted to make sure that all outstanding bilateral issues were cleared up before Netanyahu went to Moscow.

In a related development, Netanyahu asked Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman to accompany him on the trip, but Lieberman declined because he was scheduled to travel to Paris to meet new French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe.

Juppe said last week that while France would not unilaterally recognize a Palestinian state, the possibility of the entire European Union doing so “should be kept in mind.”


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