'Settlement moratorium insufficient’

Hours before PM leaves for Moscow, Russian FM calls ME situation “alarming.”

lavrov 311 (photo credit: AP)
lavrov 311
(photo credit: AP)
Hours before Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu left for Moscow on Sunday evening, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov – on a visit to Nicaragua – called the situation in the Middle East “alarming” and proposed an urgent Quartet meeting.
The prospects of a Middle East settlement were “not inspiring,” Lavrov was quoted by the Russian Itar-Tass news agency as saying.
Though calling Netanyahu’s November 25 declaration of a housing-start moratorium in the settlements a “step in the right direction,” he said the move was “insufficient.”
“We are quite concerned over the categorical refusal to stop settlement activities in east Jerusalem,” Lavrov said. “We want to help the Palestinians and the Israelis to find conditions for resuming direct negotiations as soon as possible.”
Lavrov, who met last week in Moscow with Hamas head Khaled Mashaal, said, “It is difficult without Hamas to hope that the Palestinian side can hold negotiations efficiently. The Palestinian unity is one of the most topical tasks.”
He said that this message was relayed to him both by Mashaal and by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who was in Moscow in late January.
Lavrov said Russia “proposed to convene a ministerial Quartet meeting in order to realize clearly, where all of us are staying. We have the support of all members of the Quartet. We should convene an urgent meeting, as the situation is alarming,” according to Itar-Tass.
Senior European diplomats in Jerusalem told The Jerusalem Post last week that a Quartet meeting was expected in Moscow by the end of the month.
Netanyahu, meanwhile, told the weekly cabinet meeting on the eve of his trip to Moscow that he viewed Russia as “an important power and an important friend of Israel.
“We highly value ties with Russia and would like it to support the hastening of moves to revive the peace process – naturally without preconditions – between Israel and the Palestinians, and between Israel and the rest of its neighbors,” he said.
Netanyahu said, however, that Iran would be the “first and foremost” agenda item during his talks on Monday and Tuesday with President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.
“Israel believes that strong pressure must be applied to Iran, especially very sharp sanctions, which US Secretary of State Clinton referred to as ‘crippling sanctions,’” Netanyahu said.
In other cabinet matters, the ministers began discussing a proposal to build a barrier along the 240 km. border with Egypt, but the issue was not brought to a vote because of budgetary objections from the Defense Ministry.
The barrier is expected to cost NIS 1.35 billion and take about three years to build, with much of the money coming from the Defense Ministry’s budget.
Netanyahu, at the start of the cabinet meeting, said that Sunday’s discussion on the Sinai barrier would be a “preliminary” one.
“Israel is the only country in the advanced world that may be reached on foot from Africa,” he said. “The result is security problems and the issue of growing illegal infiltrators, which we must deal with.”
The idea of the barrier was not to deny “war refugees” entrance into the country, but rather to halt the smuggling of illegal immigrants looking for work, he said.
Meanwhile, the cabinet decided to set up an interministerial committeeand begin negotiations with Ukraine about doing away with visarequirements for Israelis visiting Ukraine, and for Ukrainians visitingIsrael. Such an agreement was recently reached with Russia.
While Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman (Israel Beiteinu) has beenpushing for an end to the visa requirements, as has Tourism MinisterStas Meseznikov (Israel Beiteinu), Interior Minister Eli Yishai fromShas has objected to a blanket removal of the visa requirements, sayingthat Ukraine is a center for human trafficking.