Mashaal’s Moscow visit won’t cloud Netanyahu’s trip

Official dismisses idea Russia trying to mediate over Schalit.

February 11, 2010 04:12
1 minute read.
Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal, bottom left, marches

mashaal marches 311. (photo credit: AP)

Israeli officials on Tuesday dismissed the notion that the Kremlin invited Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal to Moscow a week before the arrival of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to try to mediate between the two over a deal for kidnapped soldier Gilad Schalit.

“This is what they [the Russians] always say when they want to justify their contacts with Hamas,” one government official said. “But there is a German negotiator involved, and he is the only one right now. I’m not sure we need another, and no one has agreed to Russian involvement.”

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The Russians, according to the official, knows how sensitive the Schalit issue is in Israel, and feel that by saying they are using their contacts with Hamas to facilitate a Hamas deal, they will temper objections in Israel.

If that is Moscow’s policy, however, it is not having the intended results. Pini Avivi, the Foreign Minister’s deputy-director for Central Europe and Eurasia, met with the Russian Ambassador Peter Stegny this week for a preparatory meeting to Netanyahu’s visit, and expressed Israel’s displeasure with the Mashaal visit and Russia’s continued contacts with Hamas.

An official said the Mashaal’s visit would not cast a shadow over the Netanyahu visit simply because Israel was not interested in making an issue over it and antagonizing the Russians. “If it was another country, like Switzerland, then our reaction might be different,” the official said. “But nobody wants to say anything against Russia.”

Netanyahu is scheduled to leave on Sunday for three days of talks in Moscow, which this month is turning into a center for Middle Eastern diplomacy. Prior to Mashaal’s visit on Monday, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was in Moscow during the last week of January, and a week or so after Netanyahu’s visit, Moscow is expected to host a high level meeting of the Quartet.

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