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While Russia told visiting Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal on Tuesday that it will try to convince the Quartet to lift the boycott of the Palestinian Authority government, Moscow will have its hands full as both the European Union and United Nations reaffirmed Tuesday that they were not interested in "playing ball" with the PA until it accepts the three international requirements.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made the US position on this abundantly clear during her meeting in Jerusalem last week. The Quartet is made up of the US, the EU, Russia and the UN.
Mashaal was greeted in Moscow on Tuesday, the second time since Hamas won the Palestinian Legislative elections last January, by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, in what appeared to be a crack in the Quartet's solidarity to keep Hamas at arm's length until it accepts the three principles.
Lavrov said after the meeting that Hamas had pledged to end missile attacks and violence against Israel.
"Hamas should use its authority to stop violence including missile attacks against Israel," Lavrov said. "We received confirmation that such steps will be taken."
At the beginning of the meeting, Lavrov said Russia favored the Mecca agreement between Hamas and Fatah because it showed "wisdom, reason and responsibility before the Palestinian people."
"We are pushing for all members of the international community to support this process and make it irreversible, including efforts to lift the blockade," Lavrov added.
In Jerusalem, however, European Commissioner for External Relations and Neighborhood Policy Benita Ferrero-Waldner said in an interview with The Jerusalem Post that "if the chances for peace are not to fade away, I think the international community must fully stay engaged, and the Palestinian side would require support. But how much Europe can offer will certainly depend on the new government's programs and action."
While Ferrero-Waldner said Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas was a "true partner for peace," she said that whether the new Palestinian Authority government would also be a partner for negotiations with Israel depended on whether it "responds to the principles of the peace set out by President Abbas himself and the Quartet."
Despite other voices in the EU coming from France, Italy and Spain arguing that flexibility should be shown toward the new government, and despite Russia's position, Ferrero-Waldner said she was "firmly in line with the Quartet statement that we set out in Berlin very recently and I hope we can go on supporting this at the next Quartet meeting in Cairo."
The Quartet statement from Berlin on February 21 called on the unity government to recognize Israel, renounce violence and accept previous agreements.
Asked what she thought about Mashaal visiting Russia, Ferrero-Waldner was careful not to rock the diplomatic boat.
"We all know what we think a [Palestinian] national unity government should do - respond to the three quartet principles we have set out. If the Russians, by talking to Hamas, can bring them more in line, I think it can be useful," she said.
Lavrov, after meeting Mashaal, said he tried to do just that.
"Our advice to Hamas, which today was given to Mashaal, is to continue in the direction of the principles of the international Quartet that include recognition of Israel," Lavrov said.
These types of comments will also prevent the Mashaal visit from creating too much of a crisis between Jerusalem and Moscow. In fact, Israel has no intention of issuing demarches over the issue or calling Russia's charge d'affaires to the Foreign Ministry to issue a protest.
"With Russia you don't talk with demarches," a diplomatic source in Jerusalem said. He added that Israel and Russia both knew where each other stood on this issue, and essentially have "agreed to disagree."
As to why Israel did not take a firmer position against the Russia-Hamas contacts, the official noted that Israel had numerous reasons - from the Iranian nuclear issue to Russian arms sales in the region - why it should not force a diplomatic crisis with Moscow over talks that would probably not lead to a change in either the US or EU's positions.
Regarding the UN, Vice Premier Shimon Peres spoke in New York by phone with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon after canceling a planned meeting with him because of a desire to catch a flight back to Israel before the feared Histadrut strike and concerns the strike would shut down the airport.
Ban, according to Peres's office, said the Mecca agreement was "not complete" and still needed much work, but signified a "positive trend inside Hamas."
Yves Sorokobi, one of Ban's spokesmen, said Ban had "made it clear there would be no progress as long as the Palestinians don't recognize Israel's right to exist."
"Hamas must recognize Israel's right to exist," Sorokobi said. "It is a key Quartet principle. The secretary-general wants to make sure this matter proceeds and is peaceful, but as long as the coalition government of the Palestinians does not recognize Israel, then I am afraid we have a problem."
"We want to encourage the Israeli side and assure them they have partners across the table, committed to recognizing their right as a state," he said. "You can't negotiate with someone who doesn't recognize your right to exist."
In Moscow, meanwhile, Mashaal said Hamas was not ready to recognize Israel.
"First of all, Israel has to end its occupation of Palestinian territory and put an end to the suffering of the Palestinian people," Mashaal said. "When Israel does that, the Palestinian people will make their position clear."
Lavrov said after the meeting that "Hamas should use its authority to stop violence, including missile attacks, against Israel," and that he "received confirmation that such steps will be taken."
Ferrero-Waldner, meanwhile, met with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Tuesday for a discussion that, according to Olmert's office, focused almost entirely on the Palestinian issue. The two discussed the implications of the Mecca Agreement, as well as ways to alleviate the humanitarian problems in the PA. The two also talked about ways to enable greater freedom of movement in the PA, with the discussion centering on ways to ensure passage through the Rafah and Karni crossings, while taking into consideration Israel's security concerns.
Ferrero-Waldner told the Post that she "specifically talked a lot about the agreement of access and movement" because she sees that as key to Palestinian economic development.
"If the Rafah [crossing] works, I hope Karni can also start to work," she said. "That would also give more hope to the Palestinians."
Michal Lando and AP contributed to this report.
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